Review: Happy Mondays – The Early EPs

The Early EPs

The re-allocated distribution of music over the last decade has been a great leveller.

Now that artists are required to release their whole back catalogues on to the various streaming services (and obviously benefit from doing so), devoted fans can get a far more comprehensive overview of their evolution as they fumbled around making mistakes before they found their groove.

The Extended Play was a key stepping stone on that path, and yet EPs were rarities thirty years ago when the compact disc was king, generally serving as a precursor to a debut album, to garner levels of interest from radio stations.

The market for a CD version of the four-track EP wasn’t huge, so the format dried up. And so in turn the re-emergence of vinyl has been a boon for it, as ever the heritage acts benefitting most by virtue of simply having more music they are able to re-release on the most popular and expensive physical format.

One suspects Happy Mondays need the money more than most: no strangers to decadence, the band were one of the (admittedly many) reasons their label Factory accumulated unsustainable debts, and have been playing catch-up ever since.

But these four EPs are a snapshot of a more innocent time. The first batch of songs on 1985’s Forty-Five could only be from that time. While the ragged funk is present from the off, Delightful is a lot more in thrall to the music of the era, specifically Factory label-mates New Order, with emotive guitar and keys lifted from Power, Corruption And Lies.

Likewise, This Feeling features a rounded Hookian bass and sturdy Stephen Morris drums under jangly Smithsian guitars. But the most striking difference is in the vocal style: on the former, Shaun Ryder is actually trying to sing, yet to perfect his drawl, while lyrically the latter is less insolent and more yearnful (‘what would you want me to do?’).

The next EP, from the following year, Freaky Dancin’ sees things slowly falling into place. Featuring two versions of the title-track, one studio and one live, the pace becomes more laconic, probaby as the drugs started to take hold. Both versions are drawn out and frustrating, and sandwiched in-between is the subtle psychedelia of The Egg which is far more deserving of being the title-track.

The second half of this set comprises two EPs lifted from their debut album, Squirrel And G-Man: Twenty-Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out). (Of the many criticisms that can be levelled at the Happy Mondays, a lack of imagination is not one.) While yet to hit their creative zenith, all tracks are recognisably the Manc scallies. On Tart Tart, Ryder’s off-key staccato is now fully-formed with a bass so crisp it could snap, but it bounces at the same time and the majestic gonzo funk of 24 Hour Party People still stands tall today. Time hasn’t been as kind to Little Matchstick Owen though, sound engineer Mike Bleach’s rap now sounding like a Noel Fielding parody.

There’s little here that ranks amongst the Mondays’ best work, but that’s not the point. It’s an interesting curio demonstrating how they got to where they were going, and for that reason it’s probably one only for the hardcore fans and collectors.

But as an insight into the history of Manchester’s music scene, it adds another layer of intrigue to this particular well-documented era.

7/10

Richard Bowes



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