Shaun Ryder is nobody’s fool. He spent a large part of his imperial years pretending to be an oaf. Unlike many other drug casualties of the punk wars and ecstasy years, he’s matured into a sanguine and avuncular figure. But has the music survived quite so intact? Most people’s entry point to the band came with Kinky Afro and Step On, both of which appear on their best-selling Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches.
It’s still the most reliably ‘pop’ of the band’s four key LPs, with pristine Paul Oakenfold/Steve Osborne production, hummable tunes and laugh-out-loud lyrics. Predecessor Bummed hasn’t fared so well. Ryder’s voice and words are muffled and indistinct, the band masked in reverb. Debut Squirrel And G-Man… is altogether funkier, with Ryder’s vocals right up-front and the rhythm section muscular and aggressive. Album opener Kuff Dam is one of their finest moments.
By the time 1992’s Yes Please! was made, the drugs were not working. Oakenfold was already booked, so Talking Heads duo Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth took over. They were clearly the only ones working in Barbados while Ryder and Bez squandered Factory Records’ remaining cash on crack. 21st century Ryder would scoff at this behaviour, but Stinkin Thinkin still hits the spot.