ALONG WITH Primal Scream, the Happy Mondays were the last gang in town. You could argue that The Libertines should be included but internal issues voids their claim. The Glaswegians and the Mancunians were bands that worked, and perhaps more importantly, partied very hard together. It was an example set by The Clash and The Damned: a tightly-formed unit that fought against the world.
It was with such thoughts that I listened to the Happy Mondays’ second album for the first time in a few years, and I have to admit, it was with high anticipation that it would sound horrendously outdated.
An album recorded as Manchester hadn’t adopted the mad yet, at a time of the burgeoning rave-indie scene, surely would have been superseded fiftyfold by the immense technological wizardry available since 1988.
But it hasn’t, and that’s testament to Shaun Ryder’s jack-the-lad tales of larrikins, layabouts, lager louts and other assorted detritus that permeated his life around Manchester, to a backdrop of wah-wah effects, the new dance culture as well as traditional drums’n’guitars’n’bass.
Prior to Bummed, the Happy Mondays had been a jobbing band largely around the north-west of England. Even in 1987, they could be caught third on the bill behind the little-known Head and madcaps extraordinaire, Stump, at student gigs. They’d been around for about five years with a few ill-produced EPs and a middling debut album behind them.
For the recording session, the band was moved to a humdrum town in East Yorkshire, Driffield, partly in a bid to keep them away from unsavoury sorts that hung around the act and their resulting distractions. It didn’t work, as parcels of treats kept arriving, and the band partied like it was 1988. There would be days when nothing happened, and the producer Martin Hannett was said to be perpetually drunk. Nevertheless, somehow, the band completed the album, and, unlike later releases, appears unaffected by the wanton debauchery and irresponsibility.
Ecstasy was working its way into the systems (literally) and the music of the time. This may well have given Ryder new insights as he scribbled out the lyrics, with songs such as Moving In With sounding like a stream of (un)consciousness as he gets carried away.
“You got four muddy pigs in the flat downstairs below/ Stomping at the door he says “Why you so slow?”/ Got a schizophrenic acquaintance patient no place to go/ Stuck with his dick through my Afghani window.”
The subtly-titled Brain Dead was about an odious oaf, a waster of the highest order, loathed by everyone, except for his mother, a “Grass sliding, slasher Brain dead fuckup.” You get the picture.
I have to say that this is my favourite track of the ten. Kicking off with a curious shout of “You’re rendering that scaffolding dangerous” it mutates and mangles its way through a sad story of an utter half-wit, a screw-up with awareness issues to a gloriously driven backbeat of delicious whoops and bleeps.
And yes, that does mean it tops Wrote For Luck, but only by the musical equivalent of a hundredth of a second in a 100 metre race. The longest track at 6:02 it ticks along perfectly, building to a crescendo midway. There isn’t a great deal to WFF as it was dubbed and called in its reissued, remixed form a year later, but its simplicity is its success. It was a trailblazer for bands like the Primals, Flowered Up ad nauseum.
Then there’s Fat Lady Wrestlers, a title that would find itself subject to a barrage of abuse on social media if written in 2016. It’s a more restrained track, but excellent nevertheless, reminiscent of something from the third album, Pills’n’Thrills’n’Bellyaches.
Why the humdrum Lazyitis was ever included is a mystery as it sounds out of place, but you can’t have the icing with the cake. Bummed is an album that remains a proud part of the elite group of collections I possess; it wouldn’t ever be surpassed, even if Pills’n”Thrills was the radio-friendly unit shifter. But then we kinda know why such albums sell so much.