The ongoing longevity enjoyed by Happy Mondays and Black Grape legend Shaun Ryder is proof that his unique talents and maverick charm have woven themselves into the fabric of British culture.
In a career of many ups and downs, as well as cementing his iconic status with books and countless TV appearances, recent years have seen the Mancunian national treasure reactivating both the Happy Mondays (again) as well as Black Grape, who delivered one new album in the process. 2017’s Voodoo Pop aside, fresh material from SWR has been scarce in later years, so what a perfect time for him to discover an unreleased solo album “, down the back of the sofa”.
Recorded in Los Angeles back in 2010, these tracks were revived on the suggestion of manager and former Creation Records chief Alan McGee before being given a mix by Sunny Levine and a few new vocals. Like the man himself, his first solo LP in 18 years is both mad and fascinating. His comment that “In my delusional ADHD brain, it’s my Sgt. Pepper full of different flavoured songs”, seems to make a lot of sense by the time the listener arrives at the end of this predictably bonkers yet steadily anchored record. Brimming with mischief and playful cool, it’s an album that also provides us with the Northern wordsmith’s most personal collection of songs yet.
The cracking opener ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ immediately creates a bouncy and colourful sound; its catchy, topsy turvy vibes also offer the most irresistible singalong chorus here. Beating fellow Madchester hero Ian Brown at his electronic hip hop game, the highlight ‘Close The Dam’ matches a superb low end with slinky guitars and a smoking hot groove, while the unashamedly melodic ‘Pop Star’s Daughters’ is both an ode to his four own children as well as a reference to his failed marriage to the daughter of 60s singer Donovan. Powered by thick bass and quirky production, ‘Monster’ moves along enjoyably, with the energy sustained for the bounding rhythm, acoustic guitars and handclaps of the slightly Fall-like ‘Honey Put The Kettle On’.
On the deliriously disorderly ‘Crazy Bitches’, shades of acid house and techno revolve against a smokey backdrop before bona fide party-bouncer ‘Straighten Me Up’ brings to mind prime Mondays with its lazed riffs, cheeky synths, and groove-driven strut offset brilliantly by Ryder’s lyrical dexterity, rowdy charm and surreal wordplay. Set to a beat made from flicking lighters and hopping drum machine rhythms, weird electronics and glitchy keys provide the backdrop to the confessional ‘I Can Stop Any Time’, where our now cleaned-up author reflects on being addicted to heroin for 20 years.
Another vibrant high point comes with the swaggering ‘Electric Scales’, Ryder’s commanding growl sliding between glam rock tones and bluesy guitars, spitting out priceless couplets such as “everyone I know is on some kind of pill, and all my friends are mentally ill”. ‘Turn Off The Air’ finds a relaxed moment, providing something of a breather via gentle 60s pop and accordion contrasting with the typically rough around the edges vocal delivery before the LP closes with the chunky, rich trip-hop booty shaker ‘Clubbing Rabbits’. Plenty to love here, including small touches of varispeed vocals, subtle electronic touches that highlight the off-the-wall lo-fi production and more golden lines like the one about going to “buy a new pair of keks”. Who else but Shaun Ryder could be responsible for such a line?
Often joyously chaotic, Visits from Future Technology is definitely an insightful entry into the discography. Far from a carefully crafted autobiographical concept record, it effortlessly sticks together hip hop, house, 60s rock, blues, electronica, funk and punk elements, stirring this multi genre melting pot with a distinctively Salford-shaped spoon.
As audaciously inventive as ever, the music veers from place to place as Ryder’s lairy drawl punches through it in boss fashion. As far as uncovered “lost albums” go, this one is a winner.