The Critics - Rock and Pop: He's gonna step on you again

Happy Mondays Brixton Academy, London Cardigans Royal Albert Hall, London

Because you demanded it - "you" being the Inland Revenue and "it" being pounds 400,000 - the Happy Mondays are here again. They've just completed a UK tour, and a brand new single is on its way: appropriately, it's a mauling of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town", although the Beatles' "Taxman" might have been more appropriate still. And if all that weren't enough, they've even got a brand new line-up. Which, if you think about it, is a curious thing for a reunion to have.

Let's start from the beginning. The Happy Mondays: doyens of the late- 1980s "Madchester" scene; took drugs; mixed indie guitars with dance rhythms; had genius/gibberish lyrics, written and drawled by Shaun Ryder; had one member - Mark "Bez" Berry - whose sole job was to have boggly eyes; released Pills'n' Thrills and Bellyaches in 1990, one of this decade's most influential and exuberant albums. Their crack-assisted crack-up followed in 1993.

Ryder went on to assemble Black Grape, still with Bez in tow; two albums later, they too disbanded. Now, the odd couple are together again in the rehabbed and reformed Happy Mondays, along with the original bassist, Shaun's brother Paul, and the drummer, Gary Whelan. But Mark Day and Paul Davis, who were the Mondays' guitarist and keyboard player respectively, have told journalists that the reunion doesn't interest them - coincidentally, neither of them were invited. Instead, Ryder has brought in Paul Wagstaff on guitar, who was last seen in - yes - Black Grape. So while this band does include four members of the Happy Mondays - five if you count Rowetta, their part-time backing singer - it also includes three members of Black Grape. I suppose that calling themselves Happy Grape or the Black Mondays or the Shaun Ryder Experience wouldn't have sold as many tickets.

This is not just bellyaching. A rock band's reunion is supposed to take you back to an earlier era, with people you haven't seen together for a long time playing music you haven't heard for a long time. But the Mondays called it a day a mere six years ago and Black Grape picked up where they left off. Even in the nostalgic 1990s it's hard to get dewy-eyed about a band who were last seen, essentially, in 1997.

Like any Black Grape gig, Tuesday's show had Bez, glazed and grinning, doggy-paddling up and down the stage; it had Ryder, chewing his lyrics into an incoherent mush; and, for good measure, Ryder had a young black sidekick. This is not to denigrate Kermit, whose Black Grape vocals were so vital, in both senses of the word. But when he was ill, Ryder simply slotted someone called Psycho into Kermit's place. And in the current edition of the Shaun Ryder Experience, Psycho in turn is replaced by - I kid you not - Nuts.

In what sense can this be called the Mondays' second coming? Well, it does have the original bassist and drummer, although not for long if Ryder keeps abusing them as enthusiastically as he did on Tuesday. The reason for his outbursts was that the click track - rock parlance for a metronome - had broken down and Whelan didn't want to continue without it. "Fookin' hell, guys, just play the fookin' drum," moaned Ryder. "I could play this one!" He had a point. If we're supposed to be excited about the return of a classic rhythm section, it should really be able to keep the rhythm.

There is also Rowetta, whose soul-mama hollering seems at odds with her dainty skipping and her schoolgirl pigtails. And if you stretch the point, you might add that Ryder is in better shape than he has been since the Mondays' heyday. He wore an athletics vest for the gig, which would have been a nightmarish sight a year or two ago. The reappearance of his neck was as evocative of bygone years as anything else the show had to offer.

Finally, there are the songs. "God's Cop" and "Hallelujah" get the party going, click track permitting. And there is no denying the buzz of hearing the battling piano and guitar riffs of "Step On" - never mind that those riffs were created by someone else. Other sections of the show tend to biodegrade into a funk-rock mulch. None of the musicians shine particularly, which wouldn't matter if we had some sentimental attachment to them. As it is ... well, you know my feelings on that score. I doubt the Mondays' reunion has made anyone very happy except the tax collector.

The Cardigans are a band of contrasts. Their early music was as soft and woolly as their name, but they've always covered Black Sabbath songs. Their tunes can be as bright and summery as blossom, but their lyrics are weighed down with pain and disappointment. These contrasts are personified by Nina Persson (no pun intended). She sings in the most pleading, heart-dissolving tones imaginable, but her persona (still no pun intended) is one of robotic emotionlessness.

On stage, the most marked contrast was between her attitude and the rest of the band's. The men would have rather been hard-rock berserkers; Persson would have rather been elsewhere. Even before the end of the first song, Peter Svensson was on his knees, ripping at his guitar in the manner of a man who had been to many a Radiohead concert in his time. And Bengt Lagerberg compensated for his stiff drumming by trying to headbutt his cymbals. Persson, meanwhile, like a teenage girl embarrassed by her hyperactive little brothers at the school disco, maintained her frosty, let's-get-this-over-with reserve, despite having borrowed her clothes from Suzi Quatro.

My judgement could be swayed by Persson's possession of the best dimples in pop, but I was on her side. Her colleagues' heavy-metal approach flattens the delicate structures of the Cardigans' songs, while still failing to project them across the cavernous Albert Hall. It's the quieter, slower material, and the perfect, pure pop of "Lovefool" and "My Favourite Game", that work best. A band of contrasts, then. Parts of Thursday's show were a delight; and parts of it weren't much cop at all.

Cardigans: Botanic Gardens, Belfast (01232 383000) tonight; Dublin Castle (00 353 1 456 9569), Monday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album