By the time the controversial Hempton Manor was released in 1996, the Shamen had already endured a very rocky history. The 1987 album Drop introduced a quartet that leaned toward a 1960s-influenced psychedelic rock sound. The album was critically acclaimed, but leader Colin Angus became increasingly influenced by the then-emerging acid house scene, and the addition of member Will Sinnott prompted a major stylistic overhaul. 1989's In Gorbachev We Trust revealed a very different sound for the Shamen, with its inclusion of hip-hop beats and electronic textures, and the band was eventually reduced to the duo of Angus and Sinnott. The Shamen signed to One Little Indian and released its debut album for the label, En-Tact, in 1990. Though the album became the Shamen's first major success, tragedy struck when Sinnott drowned a few months after the album's release. The Shamen continued, with rapper Mr. C (a.k.a. Richard West) becoming a full-time member and vocalist Jhelisa Anderson joining the band for the recording of 1992's Boss Drum. The album was a major worldwide success, including in America, where it became a cult favorite. By the mid-'90s, the Shamen had cemented its reputation as one of the world's premier techno acts. In 1995, the Shamen released Axis Mutatis. Though it was a Top 20 hit in the U.K., the album was more complex and less pop-oriented than its predecessor, causing dissension between the band and One Little Indian. Label boss Derek Birket warned limited promotion for the band's next release if it wasn't more commercial. The resultant album, sporting the title Hempton Manor (a reference to the Shamen's support of the legalization of marijuana), served as a kiss-off to Birket's demands. The album was made up entirely of instrumentals, virtually guaranteeing little airplay. The album's track listing also presented the Shamen's rather harsh opinion of label manager Birket: The first letter of each track on Hempton Manor spelled out the phrase "F*CK BIRKET." Often, artists experiencing record label disputes respond by releasing material of questionable quality. Surprisingly, Hempton Manor is quite good. The album is a solid collection of stylistically diverse instrumentals, incorporating trance, drum'n'bass, and ambient. Hempton Manor is highly melodic, with tracks like "Indica" and "The Monoriff" recalling the spacey atmospherics of classic Shamen tracks like En-Tact's "Omega Amigo" and Axis Mutatis' "MK2A," only without words. Though not a typical Shamen album and released only because of the group's deteriorating relationship with its label, Hempton Manor is a worthy addition to the band's catalog.
AllMusic Review by William Cooper