At the very beginning of the 1990s, the Happy Mondays were one of the most exciting new bands around. At a time when Indie music consisted largely of floppy fringes, effects pedals and a complete absence of charisma or tunes, the arrival of a band that understood the power of the “last gang in town” image was what many of us were waiting for. Here was a band with personalities, tunes and the distinct possibility that they would fall apart at any minute. Although mixing dance and rock music is commonplace today, the Mondays were the first band with a foot in both camps and, at the time, their music was groundbreaking.
With hindsight, it’s amazing the Mondays lasted as long as they did. An unholy mess of drug problems, inter-band bickering and increasingly self-destructive behaviour, the band collapsed acrimoniously during the recording of their final “Yes Please!” album with many of the members refusing to talk to each other even to this day. Although first and foremost a compilation of some extraordinary music, even the arbitrary running order of “Greatest Hits” fails to disguise that the Mondays kept going much longer than they should have.
The first two tracks of the album demonstrate what went wrong. The opening “Step On” is thrilling, five minutes of shuffling beats and bass lines with Shaun Ryder’s patented nonsense over the top, and it demonstrates just how good a band the Mondays were in their original incarnation. Track 2, however, is an ill-advised cover of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” played by the current (1999) line-up of the band. Possibly the worst four minutes of music ever recorded, the chemistry of the original members is replaced by a “will this do?” rhythm track and increasingly desperate backing vocals which fail to disguise Shaun Ryder’s pitiful howling. Ryder’s vocals have always had an uneasy relationship with the tune and on this track the relationship has broken down completely.
Not all the songs on “Greatest Hits” are rubbish, though. Helped considerably by Vince Clarke’s remixing skills, “Wrote For Luck” remains the finest piece of work the Mondays ever recorded and it ushered in a period where the band produced some exceptional music – much of it co-written with Paul Oakenfold – including “Hallelujah”, “Loose Fit” and “Bob’s Yer Uncle”. Later songs are less exciting. “Stinking Thinking” and “Judge Fudge” are pale imitations of earlier successes, and there are mercifully few songs from the abortive “Yes Please!” album, showcasing the sound of a band repeatedly jumping on the self-destruct button despite the best efforts of Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth.
If you’re not a fan of the Mondays, “Greatest Hits” is a lot of money for very little music. Of the fifteen songs on the CD, six of them are remixes and both “Step On” and “Wrote For Luck” are included twice. Although the remixes are generally improvements over the original versions, whoever decided to include the horrifically bad cover of “Staying Alive” should be shot and the random inclusion of earlier compositions like “24 Hour Party People” is jarring. The lack of care evident in the compilation of the CD stretches to the enclosed reply card which asks you to fill out your details to be kept up-to-date with tours and releases but doesn’t leave any space for you to enter any information.
The Mondays’ reputation is largely based on nostalgia and “Greatest Hits” does little to show why the band was so exciting at the time. As a six-song EP it would have been much more effective but, as a fifteen-song album, it’s bloated and repetitive, proving that the band should have split up several years before they finally did. It’s a rip-off, too, offering nothing over the 1995 best-of “Loads” except the woeful Thin Lizzy cover.
Thanks to the demands of the taxman, the regrouped Happy Mondays – minus most of the original members – are currently in a recording studio preparing new material. On this evidence we should track it down and superglue the locks so they can’t get out and destroy what little credibility they have left.