Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wrote For Luck, Not For Skill

While going through a "Madchester" phase this week, I came across a review of the Happy Mondays' Bummed that stated that in Manchester at the time of the musical movement (circa '88-'91), if you were a music fan, you had to pick a side of the fence: the Happy Mondays or their contemporaries and fiercest rivals The Stone Roses. The rock and roll pedagogy has stamped that The Stone Roses is (subjectively) the superior recorded artifact, but that could be because it was the band's (ostensible) debut album. And far be it from me to say it's not impressive -- in fact, it's one of my all-time favorite albums. Desert island stuff.

But you know what? I think I'd have to side with the Mondays.

Just because an artist perfects a form doesn't mean they're the truest avatar of that movement. And one could successfully argue that the Roses not only helped pioneer the sound of dance beats meeting funky indie guitars. But they sounded refined, tight, and shimmering. While the Mondays clearly leaned on their producer in the studio (not hard to do when you're working with Martin Hannett and a pre-trance Paul Oakenfold), and maybe it was Shaun Ryder's hoarse holler, but something about the same mixture of pop guitars and polyrhythms in the Mondays' hands sounded dangerous and vulgar, but irresistibly seductive. It's the thuggish edge that made Oasis heroes and Blur a cult act in the U.S. (until "Song 2", but still...). It's what some friends and I used to call "music school syndrome". Not that technical ability or craftsmanship necessarily matters in what makes "good" art, but the loose, ramshackle, and dangerous element of the Mondays just edges out the magic of about half the Roses' oeuvre. I'm not saying it's without it's charms, but that first Stone Roses album sounds pretty "pop classiscist" after nodding your body to some of the tracks on their rivals' masterstroke, Pills 'N' Thrills 'N' Bellyaches. Club music could be considered, despite it's often dire lack of lyrical or melodical virtuosity, one of the most direct antecedents of the original spark of 1950s rock and roll. That might seem like sacreliege to any self-resepecting rock geek, or even anyone who owns a Beatles album, but roll with me here. Rock and roll was music for people to go to a bar and dance to, then probably go home and screw. It's crass, but true. I've got collections of old R&B and rock numbers from the mid-'50s that are easily among the most vulgar and horny things I've ever heard -- and I own three different 2 Live Crew albums. The Mondays were barely musicians in some cases, if the live recordings I've heard are any reliable evidence. But they got up, got messed up, and probably got laid on some crazee psychedelics. I was always a little irritated by Oasis' claims that they didn't care about Blur when they clearly took great care to stoke the media-created rivalry, even on the records.

But the Happy Mondays seem like they truly didn't care about the Roses' messianic status in the pecking order. They couldn't be bothered. It's the same reason I prefer the Stones to the Beatles. I can't deny that the Beatles wrote more accomplished pop songs, but those three notes to "Satisfaction"'s main riff say a lot more to me than the entirety "A Day In The Life".

And the Soup Dragons are awesome, no matter what you say.

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