Album Review: “Orange Head” by Black Grape ★★★☆☆

3 mins read

Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder returns with Black Grapes newest album Orange Head.

The bands first project in six years is a mixed bag of genre bending instrumentals and questionable vocals.

The eleven-song album has been described as for fans of The Happy Mondays, Ian Brown, Massive Attack and Alabama 3. The difference in genre between these artists tells us everything we need to know about the album.

Not one instrumental sounds remotely the same on Orange Head with songs like “In the ground” which clearly has a large trip-hop influence, to “Panda” which is a bit more disco and then there’s “Sex on the beach” a light reggae sounding song.

The length of the songs may be off putting for some at first as most are around five minutes in length, but the tracks earn their run time as it allows the instrumentals to progress and grow as the track goes on. The length allows elements like the harmonica in “in the ground” which rears its head throughout the track, to really shine.

The tracks are filled with little quirks like the harmonica from “In the ground” and “dirt”, saxophones and keyboards are utilised in many of the tracks to fantastic results, it’s hard to find these little quirks incredibly charming and makes a fun game to play – guess the next slightly out of place instrument that they’ll try to pack in next.

If the instrumentals are the lead actor, then the vocals are the stagehand that keeps tripping over the lighting cables.

Unfortunately, Ryder and co. stumble their way through these instrumentals sort of just talking over them. It can be argued that this has always been the groups style of vocals, but it just doesn’t seem to work here, their voices are not what they used to be maybe.

The lyrics themselves are quite fun and self-aware however, “we’re getting old like the rolling stones”. Is particularly funny since the rolling stones just released a new album. And of course, there’s “I’m sleazy and your greasy” from self-harm, which is hard to not grin at.

If you are prepared to lean into the style of Orange Head then the songs can be very rewarding, “Panda” specifically is super fun and one of few songs on the project where the vocals are welcome on the instrumental.

But the vocals tend to become obnoxious after a while. If you can see past the vocal performance, then Orange Head is very charming and a concoction of different sound that on paper shouldn’t work but does.

If you want to see the band live they are touring across the UK this November and December: Check out where they are headed here.

Feature image credit: DGAFF Recordings

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