BLACK GRAPE It’s Great When You’re Straight...Yeah (Radioactive)

And so the great prophet Ryder returned from his two-and-a-half year expedition in search of some "Kentucky Fried", along with his ever-present dancing percussionist Bez (or Bez "Bez" Bez, as the sleeve claims) and ex-Ruthless Rap Assassin Kermit and delivered his latest sermon unto the masses. And things haven’t changed much...listening to "It’s Great When You’re Straight...Yeah" doesn’t half remind you of the first time you heard the Happy Mondays’ magnum opus "Pills And Thrills ‘N Bellyaches", back in the old days when Manchester was the centre of the indie universe. There’s the same sense of everything and the musical kitchen sink being present and intoxicated, except maybe with a side order of a gross of Lilt advert soundtracks this time around, and you still never can tell whether Shaun’s cut and paste post-modernism for beginners approach to lyricism is revealing more or less than the author intended.

Best bits are the singles "Reverend Black Grape" and "In The Name Of The Father", a "Step On" and "Kinky Afro" for the mid-1990s if ever there were, the blatant rip-off of Primal Scream’s "Come Together" on "Submarine", and the even more blatant and hilarious rip-off of that band’s entire "Give Out But Don’t Give Up" album on the evil "Shake Your Money". On the debit side, Shaun still hasn’t learnt to sing: his foghorn blare is all over the place like Bob Dylan’s harmonica technique, and, great though the album is, it never completely dispels the fear that it’s very completeness, much like "Pills And Thrills..." before it, will be Black Grape’s downfall - what’s left after excess, except more excess? Still, buy into it and enjoy it, whilst it lasts.

BLACK GRAPE Stupid Stupid Stupid (Radioactive)

The Grape present for your listening amusement their second long playing release, and is it just me or can anyone else detect a whiff of the TCB as usual vanilla aroma that’s hung over many of this year’s albums from the more bankable of the current crop of British bands (the prosecution points to Portishead, Stereolab, The Fall and Oasis; the defence reels off the usual litany of Radiohead, Primal Scream, The Verve and Spiritualised). It seems to me that "Stupid Stupid Stupid" is substantially 1995’s "It’s Great When You’re Straight...Yeah!" with the notes in a different order.

Which if you really believe you’re the best, or at least the biggest, band in the world might be a bit of a disappointment. But if you’re Black Grape that’s perfectly acceptable. Where the Happy Mondays, whether by accident or (rather less likely) design, managed to engineer old-fashioned concepts like progression and change into their four album chronology, packing in pretty much the whole classic rock band "Please Please Me" to "Let It Be" evolutionary cycle into a little over five years, the entire Black Grape blueprint was laid bare years ago in the 312 second manifesto that was "Reverend Black Grape": this is who we are, it said, and this is what we do...all of it.

So much of "Stupid Stupid Stupid" sounds instantly familiar, because there ain’t a lot that’s new about it. The first single "Get Higher" leads off with some clever Reagan-like dialogue in which Ronnie confesses that both he and the former first lady are enthusiastic about certain controlled substances. Sean bellows "I wanna get sneaky with yer/I wanna get squeaky inside yer" over some attractively heavy guitar and synth riffing throughout, er, "Squeaky". "Dadi Was A Badi" contains such Sondheim-standard lyrics as "Any bird with massive tits my dad just had to shag". "Lonely" is a cover of the Frederick Knight song, and contains the lines "I’ve been lonely for so long/Didn’t seem like anything would come along", as rifled by the Mondays on "Rave On" far too many trousers ago. "Stupid Stupid Stupid" is another 45-minute serving of Viz/Happy Mondays/Sly and the Family Stone, a bit rougher and tougher this time, but still essentially the same brew that if you didn’t like then you won’t find any more appealing now. And, perhaps, as it’s Sean, we’ll let it pass just this once, for old time’s sake, in the same way that we smile benevolently when Mark E Smith proffers the same album year after year. Perhaps it’s something in the canal water.

Happy Mondays