Happy Mondays

Uncle Dysfunktional

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Man, Uncle Dysfunktional has a really ugly, garish cover -- but such a revolting image is the only appropriate art for a comeback album by Happy Mondays, for there has been no band that epitomized ugly and garish like the X-addled thugs from Manchester. Even when they got colorful, which was a lot, it was with nasty clashes of color. They didn't match and they didn't care, and that same sense of malevolent, cheerful sloth infects this, the first Happy Mondays record since 1992's Yes, Please and Shaun Ryder's first since the largely ignored 2003 project Amateur Night in the Big Top. This is called the Mondays, but most of the band hasn't shown up: only Ryder and his faithful sidekick Bez, plus drummer Gary Whelan, whose presence may be the only reason outside of marketing that this isn't called a Black Grape record. Then again, the Black Grape albums -- particularly the excellent 1995 debut It's Great When You're Straight...Yeah -- felt more like Mondays albums than Yes, Please, for Ryder was the sound and spirit of the group, no matter who was backing him as a band or pulling levers on the board. Given all that, why not reclaim the name? What else is Ryder going to do anyway? He seems to admit that directionless as much on Uncle Dysfunktional, as this isn't a bracing return to form as much as it is an acknowledgement that this kind of lecherous electro-funk is what he does best, so why not do it anyway? That might not make for a kinetic album, but there's a casualness to Uncle Dysfunktional that's appealing, as the tapestries of loops, samples, and synths have a filthy, lecherous quality that's kind of seductive, even if it's not quite irresistible. What is nice is that the Mondays pretty much steadfastly refuse to change -- there are a couple of flourishes that identify this as a 2007 release, such as the blipping electronic bhangra of "Anti Warhole on the Dancefloor," but they're not forceful and they're swallowed out by beats that could have been heard ten or 15 years ago. Again, this doesn't seem like laziness as much as a shrug of "this is what they do," and there's something endearing about that. If only Ryder could have been arsed enough to really write some lyrics -- or even some lines -- that linger in the imagination, Uncle Dysfunktional would have had some longer staying power, but as it stands it's a not-bad-at-all comeback that's at least better than Stupid, Stupid, Stupid and it offers one stone-cold Ryder classic in the gleefully vulgar "Cuntrydisco," a hazy blend of Hawaiian steel, "Bob George" samples, silly voices, and nonsense that's as good as anything he's ever done -- even if it does suggest that he could have done an album as good as this if he only bothered.

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