Pop Voodoo by Black Grape (UMe)
There was something going on in the late 80’s in Manchester that saw kids picking up guitars, drum sticks, bass, synths and microphones to create a sound distinctive enough to reach around the world on vinyl and CD, in music videos and on stages. Combining punk, funk, dub, dance beats and sampling the past, a true urban sound that reflected the city and the desire to celebrate life and getting off your head with drugs and drink. Happy Mondays typified the sound with Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, their third and best known album released in late 1990, an album of hazy, lazy and ultimately sublime songs that put you in a good mood whether you were on drugs or straight, yeah. The Mondays released Yes, Please in 1995, then fell apart due to drugs. In 1995 singer Shaun Ryder rose out of the ashes of the Mondays to join his friend Kermit (Paul Leveridge) to continue the ideas in his head. It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah and Stupid, Stupid Stupid kept the 24 Hour Party going and then…the party ended. Ryder went on to TV, wrote a book, yet didn’t grow up completely, reuniting with an older, wiser Happy Mondays several times.
No Mondays album, no United States appearances, but we do get a new Black Grape album Pop Voodoo, with Kermit back in the game after a serious health issue. Killing Joke bassist and world-class producer Youth plays most of the instruments, the sound is joyous and life seems just a little bit brighter with Black Grape back after almost 20 years.
Pop Voodoo opens with the requisite political statement, this time aimed at our bloated blowhard leader, Everything You Know is Wrong? The tightly wound bass loop, guitar jangle, cracker-jack drums and horns get you in the mood for a riot, or maybe a smoke and a drink around the bar instead. I Wanna Be Like You rides on a shuffling groove and soulful keyboards, uplifting vocals ooh and aah in the background, Ryder and Kermit sing about looking at their crazy youth with both amusement and wisdom. Losing Sleep has a powerful groove to it, some anger rises up in Ryder’s voice, with a soulful and spiritual undercurrent that makes you want to raise your hands to the sky.
The title song gets your ass moving with a super-funky guitar chug and drum beat, Ryder singing with conviction because he’s lived a life of fun and regret and still gets up and dances to his own rhythm.
Sugar Money combines horn stabs, that signature drum shuffle, layers of keyboards, cool background vocals, an acoustic guitar solo and more for an uplifting experience.
After dancing the day away, Ryder and Kermit turn the lights and the beat down on Young and Dumb singing “Speed up so you don’t stop, slow down so you don’t quit”. On Pop Voodoo, Black Grape may have slowed down but they’re still partying. And the world is better for it.
(Review by Bret Miller)