1990, Music

Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches (1990) by Happy Mondays

I’ve listened to a few madchester/baggy albums at this point and it’s safe to say that I just don’t get the genre. Now, I get very few dance-rock hybrids outside of Talking Heads’ version of that kind of thing, but this one I find particularly perplexing.

And one reason for that is that, with Happy Mondays and a number of these other bands, I don’t hear much dance music. Maybe I don’t have the right ears but this sounds like pretty conventional, middle of the road pop rock to me, more often than not. Sure, I hear the influence in the drumming, madchester’s horrible legacy to ’90s pop rock, but I don’t hear much else. (Okay, sometimes the bass. Sometimes a keyboard fill.)

More than with some other dance-rock fusions, when I listen to madchester I wonder where the dance music is. (Given that dance-rock fusion had been a thing for a decade and was a big thing particularly in the UK, it’s even harder for me to understand why this music is the stuff that gets written about so much.)

The songs are catchy. I can’t deny that. I still don’t love Ryder as a lyricist, but I can’t fault the songs from a musical point of view. I can imagine enjoying this more, probably, if these guys were making britpop instead. (Though it really depends upon what kind of britpop.)

It’s the arrangements that really confuse me: they are pretty run-of-the-mill performances of late ’80s British pop rock with an absolute ton of funky drummer. My biggest problem with Happy Mondays – and other madchester bands – is their music does not strike me as immediate. It does not move me viscerally in any way. And that’s weird for dance-inspired music, isn’t it?

Some of this isn’t on the arrangements but, rather, the production. I think of the lead guitar on “Kinky Afro” and how low it is mixed. Is this rock music? British music of this era has the curious desire to de-emphasize loud guitar playing on record and it’s something that drives me crazy. Why is Ryder’s voice so much louder than everything else, especially the guitar?

I just don’t get it. But I’ll be talking to a friend who is a fan in the next week or so. Maybe he’ll help me figure out what the big deal.


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