My review of Devo’s Shout! last month caused me to consider the term “disaster album”. Yes, Shout! was a critical and commercial failure which got Devo dropped from their label and (temporarily) split up the band, but I figured I could do one better. When I think of a total disaster album, the first thing that comes to mind is Yes, Please! by the Happy Mondays. Not only was it a commercial flop that was savaged by nearly everyone (including the infamous Melody Maker review – “No, thanks”), but it wound up costing so much money that Factory Records went bankrupt. The money of course ended up going mostly up the noses of the band members – in an attempt to get the group off heroin, the label sent them to Barbados, resulting in the Mondays developing a newfound affinity for crack cocaine. When they ran out of money, they sold Eddy Grant’s furniture to buy more drugs. Which then led to Shaun Ryder rather infamously holding the master tapes hostage for more cash, even though the songs were still very much incomplete. (He got £50) Bez wound up crashing a car and breaking his arm, halting production of the album (and sucking up more Factory cash). And so on.
Both Bez’s autobiography (Freaky Dancing – totally recommended, by the way) and the semi-fictional film 24 Hour Party People look upon this period the same way – it was inevitable. The Mondays had been plotting their own destruction since ’86, pissing off every producer, engineer, and manager they ever came across, which resulted in an incredible stroke of luck – they managed to bag Paul Oakenfold for 1990’s Pills n’ Thrills n’ Bellyaches, whose combination of acid house and rock proved to be a winner. Suddenly, the Mondays were real stars, up there with The Stone Roses as the heart n’ soul of Madchester, able to finally, legitimately fund their “all drugs all the time” lifestyle. For a short while at least.
Amazingly, the blame for the failure of Yes, Please! often gets placed not on the band nor the dozens of labelmen and handlers who failed to keep them sober, but rather Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, who were tabbed to produce the album. Bez’s autobiography tells a different story – Frantz and Weymouth may well be the reason why half the band members are still even alive, given that they spent most of their time babysitting the group. Granted, the production, which makes the album sound an awful lot like the Talking Heads’ final album Naked, doesn’t exactly do the band any favors. But nobody was saving this thing; Ryder and co. barely wrote any songs, and I doubt most of the members have any recollection whatsoever of even recording this album.
Like Shout!, the failure of Yes, Please! lies not in how messy and discombobulated it is (which, come to think of it, accurately describe the Mondays’ good albums), but rather how straight and unadventurous. The opening track and single “Stinkin’ Thinkin'” is a bit of an exception; it’s got a nice slinky groove and a sleepy vocal, sort of an early morning love song for Generation E. It is a nice tune, the sort that I wouldn’t mind hearing buried somewhere on a “best of” compilation. Sadly it winds up being practically the only memorable song on the entire album. Half credit can be given to “Angel”, but only because Shaun bungles a line on the chorus which makes it sounds like he’s asking “when did the Simpsons begin?” At its best the album sounds like an ungarbled take on Bummed; add a few layers of echo and distortion and “Sunshine and Love” maybe could have made it, but that’s one of the better tunes. It’s full of clean Caribbean rhythms and Rowetta’s backing vocals – in fact, if you didn’t know better you could be mistaken for thinking this was their “oh shit, they got sober” album.
In other words, it’s the Mondays minus everything good about the Mondays. Frantz and Weymouth try their best to keep it loose and funky, but the trouble is there just are no hooks there. The beats are decent but unfortunately they’re forced to be the focal point. The band just does not seem to care at this point; Mark Day, who could never really play in the first place, strums his guitar as though he’s sitting hungover in bed. Paul Ryder can barely be heard at all. Shaun’s lyrics made even less sense than usual. The only band member who appears to be trying at all is Rowetta, likely forced into extra duty since there’s so much to cover for. But the album isn’t bad. Incredibly mediocre, yeah. But not terrible.
Alas, “not terrible” wasn’t exactly going to cut it on the Madchester scene; I mean, the Stone Roses’ Second Coming got savaged and that album was downright decent. But people wanted anthems and the Mondays did not deliver. Yes, Please! is the sort of album that might pass when everyone knows the band is going through a rough spell, but the Mondays were only two years out from their biggest hits. Perhaps things could have been different. Shaun Ryder claims that the band needed time away from each other, remarking that the other band members were reluctant to go in the direction he wanted to. Perhaps if Factory wasn’t so desperate we could’ve gotten something closer to the first Black Grape album, and therefore the continuation of the Mondays. Not that it matters, since that Black Grape album rules, and besides, I doubt such a dysfunctional group could’ve stayed together for long. You can put it off, but fate catches up in the end.