At their peak, the Happy Mondays were hedonism in perpetual motion, a party with no beginning and no end, a party where Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches was continually pumping. The apex of their career (and quite arguably the whole baggy/Madchester movement), Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches pulsates with a garish neon energy, with psychedelic grooves, borrowed hooks, and veiled threats piling upon each other with the logic of a drunken car wreck. As with Bummed, a switch in producers re-focuses and redefines the Mondays, as Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne replace the brittle, assaultive Martin Hannett production with something softer and expansive that is truly dance-club music instead of merely suggestive of it. Where the Stone Roses were proudly pop classicists, styling themselves after the bright pop art of the '60s, the Mondays were aggressively modern, pushing pop into the ecstasy age by leaning hard on hip-hop, substituting outright thievery for sampling. Although it's unrecognizable in sound and attitude, "Step On," the big hit from Pills, is a de facto cover of John Kongos' "He's Gonna Step on You Again," LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" provides the skeleton for "Kinky Afro," but these are the cuts that call attention to themselves; the rest of the record is draped in hooks and sounds from hits of the past, junk culture references, and passing puns, all set to a kaleidoscopic house beat. Oakenfold and Osborne may be responsible for the sound of Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches, certainly more than the band, which almost seems incidental to this meticulously arranged album, but Shaun Ryder is the heart and soul of the album, the one that keeps the Mondays a dirty, filthy rock & roll outfit. Lifting melodies at will, Ryder twists the past to serve his purpose, gleefully diving into the gutter with stories of cheap drugs and threesomes, convinced that god made it easy on him, and blessed with that knowledge, happy to traumatize his girlfriend's kid by telling them that he only went with his mother cause she was dirty. He's a thug and something of a poet, creating a celebratory collage of sex, drugs, and dead-end jobs where there's no despair because only a sucker could think that this party would ever come to an end.
Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine