Shaun Ryder and Paul ‘Kermit’ Leveridge take aim and have fun on album #4
Currently enjoying their longest run as a band having reformed in 2015, with their first incarnation lasting from 1993-1998, Black Grape release just their fourth album this week.
Now a duo comprising Happy Mondays frontman, Shaun Ryder, and rapper, Paul ‘Kermit’ Leveridge, having previously included other former members of Happy Mondays as well as another rapper in Carl ‘Psycho’ McCarthy, the seasoned pairing from Manchester are clearly having a lot of fun on Orange Head.
Whether creating party music with non-serious lyrics, sneering potshots at their enemies or serious house music reflecting on their lives, the variety on show is not in question.
Musically, Orange Head flits between genres and the playful inventiveness is a delight. Leveridge’s bars are often menacing, similar to The Prodigy’s Maxim, while Ryder’s performance is committed and inimitable, occasionally grating against the finely polished music.
The opening three tracks of the 11-song album start proceedings in a strong way: ‘Button Eyes’ evoking the sounds of Brazilian samba music as Ryder larks about vocally, finding humour in his day job (“I find it funny that I can’t sing”); ‘Dirt’ is led by probing keyboard and the two vocalists joining forces on what presumably is a reflection on the grimier experiences derived from their drug-taking heyday; and ‘In the Ground’ is a seven-minute epic with the combination of guitar, harmonica and handclap conveying the feeling of a western film soundtrack as Ryder triumphantly taunts “now you’re in the ground, you sold me out for a penny in the pound”.
Having a blast: Black Grape (photo credit: Paul Husband)
This schadenfreude continues with ‘Losers’ as Ryder and Leveridge infer that losers are those with bad intentions and karma catches up with them in the end over a catchy tune. Other highlights are ‘Part of Everything’ which begins like Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy (Nuxx)’ and sees the duo reflect on the interconnectivity of life and their roles in the world and ‘Pimp Wars’, where they inhabit the role of characters in the underbelly of society over a perky dance tune.
‘Milk’ offers a good chorus and lyrics about trying not to give in to their demons, ‘Self Harm’ acknowledges the sleaze of their nocturnal company and ‘Sex on the Beach’ is an enjoyable reggae-infused track. The only track which fails to capture the imagination is ‘Panda’ with its weak, repetitive beat aping Deee-Lite’s ‘Groove Is In the Heart’, despite the reflection on ageing in the lyrics and memorable “we’re getting old like The Rolling Stones” refrain.
Overlong and over repetitious throughout, Orange Head nevertheless is bursting with ideas, joyous energy and unfiltered lyrics. It may not be an album to return to often and listen from beginning to end, but there are enough solid tunes to dive into now and again which stack up well against the best which dance music has to offer currently.
Orange Head is out on Friday (19 January) via DGAFF Recordings