When Black Grape first came crashing onto the scene in the mid 1990s, they were a perfect fit for the new laddism in vogue at the time.
They shot straight to the top of the UK charts with the magnificent It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah, but dropped off the radar when so-so follow up Stupid Stupid Stupid failed to repeat that success.
Now, after 20 years away, Shaun Ryder and ex-Ruthless Rap Assassin Kermit, are back with a bold and frankly entirely unanticipated comeback record.
Shrewdly enlisting big name producer Youth, they’ve come up with a record that shines an unflinching light on the seamy underbelly of a divided Britain.
Recorded in just a month, it’s peopled by a motley collection of lowlifes, addicts, drunks and thieves.
Musically, dirty funk is the order of the day, leavened with a healthy smattering of brass for that ‘70s US cop show feel.
Youth’s arrangements provide a solid structure for the vocal duo to work with, and against, as they document the travails of these characters in pursuit of “meds” and sleazy sex.
Album opener Everything You Know Is Wrong – Intro (reviewed by EP in May) is great fun, if somewhat untypical of the rest of the record.
A hilarious take on the US election campaign, it’s easy to imagine Ryder shouting epithets at the TV screen as he watches the campaign on 24-hour news.
“‘illary’s an old bird who fucked up on ‘er computer,” is his analysis of the email scandal that plagued the Clinton campaign.
But the main target for his contempt is Donald Trump, who’s taken to task for boasting to supporters of building a border wall with Mexico, but failing to bring it up when he actually visits the country.
And his final verdict on the present incumbent of the White House? “‘e’s a knob’ed” – naturally.
While Nine Lives is a witty nod to Ryder’s past history of chemical indulgence, the humour takes a darker tone, as the duo turn their attention to a series of keenly observed tragic-comic creations.
Standout tracks Shame and I Wanna Be You paint a caustic picture of addiction and wasted lives – the exhuberance of old making way for a more reflective lyrical vision.
The spacey Whiskey Wine And Ham shows Ryder’s not lost his gift for surreal, streams of consciousness street poetry.
“Butchers, chasing doctors/ followed by helicopters/ you’re all just obnoxious,” he rants at one point.
Elsewhere, there are shades of Ryder’s other band the Happy Mondays on the riff-led String Theory and the swaggering rhythms of the title track (see video below).
“You went to hell, it was too fuckin hot,” Ryder drawls, “You got your balls tied in a knot.”
There’s more great rhyming and surf guitar on Set The Grass On Fire, while Young And Dumb sees Black Grape heading into trip-hop territory.
It’s a not an unadulterated triumph, the plastic soul and obvious message of Money Burns misses the mark and Sugar Money drifts by without leaving much of an impression.
So no It’s Great When You’re Straight…. then, but a vivid, punchy and surprisingly focussed piece of work nonetheless. A welcome return.
- Pop Voodoo is released on UMC on 17 July 2017
- Black Grape play the Moovin Festival, Stockport on 27 Aug 2017
- For more information visit their website BlackGrapeOfficial.com