Shaun Ryder

XXX: 30 Years of Bellyaching

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Released just two weeks after his exit from jungle reality show I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here, where he finished runner-up to 2009 X-Factor finalist Stacey Solomon, XXX: 30 Years Of Bellyaching is a welcome reminder that aside from eating baked tarantula, getting bitten by a snake, and rowing with eccentric TV nutritionists, Mancunian singer Shaun Ryder is one of the most iconic indie frontmen of the last 20 years. Whether it's Liam Gallagher's sneer and swagger, Kasabian's psychedelic dance-rock sound, or Pete Doherty's recreational habits, the Happy Mondays vocalist's influence has been an ever-present force in the charts, even if Ryder himself has struggled to maintain anything approaching consistency. With a track list claiming to span 30 years (the earliest song featured here is 1987's "24 Hour Party People"), this 17-track collection gathers material from both his late-'80s and early-'90s baggy heyday, his post-Mondays project Black Grape, and two extremely diverse collaborations. Of course, it's no surprise that nearly a third of the tracks appear courtesy of Happy Mondays' seminal third album, Pills 'n' Thrills & Bellyaches, with Top Five singles, the jangly guitar-pop classic "Kinky Afro," and their signature tune, "Step On" (featuring the immortal lyric, "you're twisting my melon, man") still sounding as fresh and inventive as ever. But like fellow baggy pioneer Stone Roses' Ian Brown, Ryder was still occasionally capable of producing work just as euphoric even after the whole Madchester scene had collapsed. Black Grape, the band Ryder formed with rappers Kermit and "freaky dancer" Bez evolved his signature sound by fusing acid-house beats with country-rock and hip-hop, as evident on the controversial "Reverend Black Grape" (surely the only song to sample "O Come All Ye Faithful" and a Hitler rally) and the infectious "In the Name of the Father." But apart from their rather triumphant unofficial Euro 1996 anthem, the Joe Strummer- and Keith Allen-featuring "England's Irie," one of the few football songs that remain listenable outside its context, they never achieved the same heights again, and only one track from their disastrous second and final Stupid Stupid Stupid album ("Get Higher"), is included here. And following a profanity-filled appearance on Chris Evans' TFI Friday and a rather ramshackle duet with The People's Tenor, Russell Watson, on a cover of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé's "Barcelona," it seemed as though Ryder was destined to become a John Lydon-style caricature of his former self, rather than a credible recording artist. However, the noughties surprisingly proved to be his most successful period. The Michael Winterbottom film based on The Hacienda, New Order, and Ryder and his bandmates' exploits introduced him to a younger audience, and he scored his only number one hit as a guest vocalist on Gorillaz's electro-disco "Dare," while the Mondays regrouped to record their first album in 15 years with 2007's Uncle Dysfunktional, even if it didn't exactly live up to the standards of their early work. There are a few notable omissions, with Black Grape's Top Ten hit "Fat Neck," the Mondays' 1999 comeback rendition of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town," and Ryder's only solo album, Amateur Night in the Big Top, completely ignored. But overall, 30 Years of Bellyaching is a haphazard but always intriguing journey through the career of perhaps one the most interesting and unpredictable characters in modern British pop music.

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