Monday, September 06, 2021

Yes, This Is Shaun Ryder’s ‘Sgt. Pepper’

“Did you get on that mumbo jumbo? / Yeah / I’ve got seventy-five percent jellyfish textses / Are you on that for real? / Are you having that? / Hahaha”.

Yes, Shaun Ryder, I am on that. Straight back at it with ‘Mumbo Jumbo’, an addictive funk bass groove and minimalist electric guitar lick that reaches as high as the Happy Mondays and Black Grape days.

Part paranoid, part esoteric freestyle prose poetry in-joke, we are back in his world and it feels good.

This is a strong opener to an addictive album: Ryder’s latest, ‘Visits From Future Technology’.


Next, ‘Close The Dam’ tightens the groove into a laid-back disco drum machine backbeat, and muted guitar riff. “They cut the drugs with something nasty”. Yes, he’s still talking about drugs. Are you on that?

Track three is ‘Popstar’s Daughters’, taking a bittersweet view of the mature musical phenomenon’s family life with lines like, “Daddy’s gonna send a car / Daddy’s gonna pay the bill”. Between the gentle long-in-the-tooth jibes, the narrator notes that his kids, “Didn’t arrive in the world with a set of instructions” unlike other children might do. 

The next track, ‘Monster’, casts its thematic net wider still. Screeching in with a crackly distorted wail, it slips into a light acoustic ska shuffle supported by a rumbling reggae bass line. The surprising harmonic descent to the chorus, punctuated by a synth brass stab, could have come out of the R.E.M. electronic album ‘Up’ – or maybe it’s the obliquely disjointed lyric and monster imagery reminding me of Stipe et al.?

“Monster is happy today”. 

Are we talking about a moody and difficult-to-live-with character, or are we talking about addiction? Or both? Or neither? Shaun has called the whole album “nonsense”, but it feels like very on-the-nose nonsense. Even Covid seems to make an appearance: “Monster is lock-down safe”.


‘Honey Put The Kettle On’ is a loose rock and roll groove, expanding the musical vocabulary of the album even more. Ryder has also referred to the album as  “my Sgt. Pepper”, in a statement provided by an NME article from Charlotte Krol, and it certainly has the variety and humour to live up to that name. And the drugs – at least in terms of imagery - even if he, in fact, wrote the whole thing while more sober, certainly align with this. Then onto the casually misogynistic ‘Crazy Bitches’ – hang on, is he singing in French now? We are stuck in a strange garden party where someone seems to have got the arsehole.


‘Straighten Me Up’ intensifies the rock and roll aesthetic with a grungy blues riff that would turn Chris Rea’s head, fused with a shuffling disco beat that Barry Gibb has been ringing around to try and get it safely returned to 1977. Now back to a brooding minimal ska groove with ‘I Can Stop Anytime’, supported by backing singers doing some tight, “Ah-oh ah-oh-wa-oh[s]” as he dances between addiction and sobriety; “It’s not a big deal / It’s not a problem / There’s only one thing on my mind / I can stop anytime”.


‘Electric Scales’ opens with a riff that sounds like someone put Coldplay in a toaster and then threw them in a bath, right before the bath walked away to a driving beat and grungy bassline that calls to mind a less corporate, mirror-universe version of the Gorillaz. That’s how I would describe it. That is the sound of this song. Until the chorus, whose lyrics Noel Gallagher would be extremely proud of: “Everyone I know’s on some kinda pill / And all my friends are mentally ill”.


Suddenly, we’re deep into Beach Boys territory, both in terms of backing vocals, inscrutable lyrics, and production values. Tambourine! Clippety-clop stamp and clap percussion. But no cowbell. ‘Turn Off The Air’ could be a lost track from the ‘Smile’ sessions. Not the Katy Perry ones. Obviously. The other ones.


The final track, ‘Clubbing Rabbits’, comes in like a muted gangsta rap song. Did I skip to a different album by mistake? When Shaun starts singing, we know it’s definitely a Shaun Ryder song after all. And the whole album is definitely a Shaun Ryder album. The whole thing is stamped with his humour and swagger, his infectious musical and lyrical creativity, and his unmistakable, mad-for-it Madchester voice.


John Weston
Image: Shaun Ryder ‘Visits From Future Technology’ Official Album Cover

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