Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 3)
Despite its considerable legacy, none of the singles from The Stone Roses
broke the band through. It wasn’t until a song that sounds nothing like anything else on the album, “Fools Gold”, was released in late 1989 that the Roses found themselves leaping out of the indie circuit. Only then did the reissued Stone Roses
singles (And they were reissued a lot) start finding themselves in the top 50. This wasn’t trend hopping; this was a band that found themselves more on the “baggy” side of Madchester making a perfect hop to what was hot at the time. “Fools Gold” is still one of the best singles of the Madchester scene, which found elements of acid house, Factory Records, nightclubs, and readily available ecstasy tablets tossed in a blender and something that tasted kind of like rock music coming out on the other side.
Madchester as a scene lit up and flared out so quickly it’s hard to really assess where it stands in the broader cultural sense. Its had its heyday sometime around 1989 and was basically over by 1991, that’s short enough to dismiss it as a mere footnote. But Madchester is key in the arrival of Britpop because it was a scene that England could call its own. It was borne of a distinctly English love of club culture and the feeling that something was beginning in the small working class town of Manchester.
The Happy Mondays came around long before the scene would allow them a turn in the spotlight. Formed by local Manchester lunkheads Sean and Paul Ryder in 1983 they cut their teeth at the legendary Hacienda nightclub before making their defining statement in 1990 with Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches
. A loose set of drum break laden ‘chunes with their tongues firmly in cheek.
”Son, I’m thirty/I only went with ya’ mother ‘cause she’s dirty”
Sean Ryder approached lyrics with a dirty sly smile. He was the one patting down your bum towards the end of the party and slipping a few extra fags from your pack. The song that particular bit is culled from, opener “Kinky Afro”, is the only Madchester song you need if you’re looking to get an idea of the scene in 4 minutes or less. A soulful woman wails, the drums clatter like vintage break beats, and the guitar line snakes around with a suit and tie cool. Sean imagines a conversation between a deadbeat dad and his deadbeat son with a dynamite chorus of “I had to crucify some brother today.”
Elsewhere grandpa (“Grandbag’s Funeral”) dies and the funeral makes for a good excuse to get blitzed. “Bob’s Yer Uncle” and he’s also a sleaze in the sack as “Four fall in a bed, three giving head, one getting wet”. “Step On” flirts with an American breakthrough (It was their highest charting song here) over crisp piano hits. It’s all well and groovy, but it has aged. It feels like the very distinct product of the very early 90s.
The Happy Mondays burned bright and burnt out. Either their demise came when member/dancer Bez made some explicitly homophobic remarks to the NME
(“I hate faggots. Anyone who’s straight finds them disgusting.”). Or, if the (excellent) film 24 Hour Party People
is to be believed (and it is), the complete collapse of Madchester happened in 1992 around a very expensive new table as the heads of Factory Records gathered to listen to the new Happy Mondays album Yes Please!
. Sean and the lads were sent to Barbados for the explicit purpose of making sure nobody took anymore heroin, so they took crack cocaine instead. The album was delivered with no vocals. It was so clearly a disaster that it atom bombed the legendary Factory Records into bankruptcy. Madchester was a party, but that party had to end.
Next: “I’ll sure as hell retaliate.”