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Happy Mondays – Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches (1990)

June 12, 2014

[Album 321/1001]220px-Hmpillsnthrills

This week, there is a provincial election in Ontario.  A time of question dodging.

One of the first question dodges I remember hearing was from when I was in high school.  I can’t recall the name of the interviewee; he was invited to CBC radio’s morning program to discuss the dangers of ‘rave’ culture and speak in defense of nightclubs.

Pardon the paraphrasing (I’m not sure if an exact transcript exists) but the argument went something like this:

“People say that raves are all about drugs and violence but I can assure you, in all my time in this scene, I have not witnessed any act of violence.  It’s just not true, ravers are not violent people.  I repeat, violence is not an issue.  I can’t stress this enough, ravers are not interested in violence, capiche?”

A question dodger from the start, perhaps the young man went on to a life in politics!

For maximum enjoyment, Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches is probably a ‘had to be there’ record: at The Haçienda nightclub in Manchester, in 1990, dancing ecstatically under the influence of ecstasy.

At that time, I was eight years old, living in Canada, possibly dancing and probably using considerably less E.

I’ll try to get into the 1990 zeitgeist by reviewing the album using an acrostic poem (talk about fitting in at a rave) with the drug’s compound acronym:

Madchester.  Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches is a record credited with defining a time and place.  I’d imagine this album is included among the 1001 primarily for its significance in the musical movement, as opposed to its stand-alone excellence.

Danceability factor: is sufficiently high here.  The tempo doesn’t shift dramatically throughout, which lends itself nicely to dancing.  No dance floor-clearing tracks here either, it’s a pretty consistent 10-song set.  Almost to a fault as with the exception of Kinky Afro (and its Lady Marmalade-esque chorus) there aren’t really any standout tracks.

Manchester FTW (and not the other way around)!  Even if this record didn’t make food taste better for me, it still bolsters The Greater Manchester Area’s credentials as the world’s finest exporter of music.

Average.  In the book, Proofiness, Charles Seife made a good point about the mathematical impossibility of every child being above average.  I also appreciate the wisdom from The Incredibles, “when everyone’s super…no one will be.”

Finally, I just saw a funny Louis C.K. clip about the hyperbole in the adjectives we use, such as calling a sandwich awesome.  If a sandwich is awesome (meaning the sandwich left you in awe?) what will you say when your child is born? You wasted awesome on a sandwich!

So the timing wasn’t great for Happy Mondays as I chose today of all days to start becoming a bit more judicious with my complimentary adjectives.

Average isn’t bad; it’s a math inevitability so that you can have above and below average records.

I have plenty of gratitude for ‘Madchester’ artists as albums like this one helped set the stage for some of my favourite recordings of the 90s.

In this case, when it comes to scene-defining sounds, I think the (above average) self-titled  Stone Roses debut is a more interesting recording.


From → 1990s

  1. jprobichaud permalink

    I’ve always been more a fan of certain Mondays songs, rather than their full albums. This one’s got “Step on”, one of my favourite anthems from the Madchester scene. Great post!

    • Thank you sir – I was wondering if any of these songs made your top 100 list before realizing it missed the 80s countdown by a few months!
      Did any songs from ‘Bummed’ make your top 100? It’s also on the 1001

      • jprobichaud permalink

        Yep. “Wrote for luck” (another great Mondays single) came in at #93.

  2. Stone Roses are great, and got a lot more attention from me than Happy Mondays.

    • Happy Mondays have another one (Bummed) on the list, alas only the Stone Roses debut made the cut.
      A friend gave me the SR Greatest Hits, a couple other songs (Love Spreads, Ten Storey Love Song) are some of the better moments of the 90s

  3. yay…..another election…. (half-heartedly blows into noisemaker) honnnnk……

  4. Madchester! good freakin times…bob’s ur uncle was such a sex song 🙂 you are right on about the stone roses, but pills n thrills sure did spend some time in the cassette player in my car…yikes. as did inspiral carpets. gosh my sis went to the hacienda for her honeymoon and i went to ministry of sound when i was a poor backpacker, really good times.

    • Poor backpacking is the only way to go! On my budget backpacking trip, I had to see a couple of the Smiths Manchester landmarks (the cemetry gates, the Holy Name Church).

      I’m pleased to report I’ve been listening to pills n thrills on cassette – with that tape starting ‘lazer-ish’ noise at the beginning and end!

  5. I listened to a fair bit of Black Grape, but not these guys at all.

    • And I’m not even remotely familiar with Black Grape beyond the name

      • They came out of the ashes of Happy Mondays. Their second album was freakin’ great:

      • Just looked them up – I recognize Kelly’s Heroes, interesting sound.

      • It was a real party band. I remember the album opened with a Ronald Reagan impersonator saying, “Nancy and I are addicted to cocaine.”

        The one Happy Mondays album has prank phone calls at the end. He calls Buckingham palace. “Yes, is the Queen there? I’m just checking if she’s well.”

      • That’s funny – that would get my attention to kick of the record!

  6. The Stone Roses follow up album ‘Second Coming’ is quite often regarded as a failure. I disagree, it is a much different album from their debut and the 5 year wait ment that the album was over hyped. I wrote a blog about how highly I personally regard it. Look it up.

  7. Cheers for the share Stephen. A bit if international recognition never goes amiss. Big fan of your blog as always. I need to start writing again but nothing is motivating me at the minute.

    • No worries Martyn, and thanks.
      I found at album #300 I needed a break, took a couple weeks off, and my motivation returned.
      So I’m sure you’ll be back writing soon!

  8. ianbalentine permalink

    My timing was perfect. I was 22 when it was released, and even though I, too lived in Canada (Burlington) I was lucky enough to see them twice in Toronto nightclubs. Perhaps living through it (and going to great TO nightclubs such as REM (still there?)) rose tints my glasses, but I think it’s a perfect album, full of standouts. It is an absolute favorite and has remained in my top 20 of all time since it was released.

    • Seeing them live at the time, that would definitely enhance the experience. I’m curious as to what else is in the top 20!

      • ianbalentine permalink

        Maybe I’ll do an entry! Also, Mikeladano is right that Black Grape’s second album Stupid Stupid Stupid is pretty great, but I much prefer their first, It’s Great When You’re Straight…yeah! I believe only Bez (a dancer) and Shawn Ryder (singer) came from the Mondays, though.

      • Please do! I’m particularly interested to see where we’d have overlap, I have a feeling there’s more than a few albums that would appear on each of our respective lists

  9. Even though the Mondays were the definitive example of the mancunian rock/dance collision I found this album disappointing. They seemed to be past their anarchic underground phase by that point. I agree that Black Grape were better – great musicians and a crazy vocal double-act in Shaun and Kermit.

    • Which is one of the reasons I enjoy this blog community – if I’m not blown away by an album, you folks are always able to point me in the direction of one that’s more impressive, thanks!

  10. I’d imagine this album is included among the 1001 primarily for its significance in the musical movement, as opposed to its stand-alone excellence.

    Definitely. And hype. Like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, T-Rex and so on.

    • ianbalentine permalink

      Agree to disagree. Viva La Difference!

      • I first heard the expression ‘agree to disagree’ from a friend in high school. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t like the cure! One day, perhaps he’d had enough of my incessant praise of Robert Smith & co. and he politely suggested, ‘agree to disagree’

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