Seemingly done with the twisting of his melon, Shaun Ryder heads back to the comfortable side project piece, Black Grape, and knuckles down for a new album. Orange Head, another fruit-based skull opportunity for the Step On and Kinky Afro singer, brings out the best in what can be expected of 1990s revival melodies. With a neat fusion bringing up the best and worst of Ryder and the Black Grape collective, Orange Head serves as an ill-timed but well-functioning piece. It is the unhinged and helpful piece of work Ryder has always been gunning for, though this one feels at its most complete and abrasive. “I’m alive,” he cries. That he is, and so too is Orange Head.
Ska influences can be heard on opening track Button Eyes and linger on throughout. Ryder seems confident, his lyrical wit continues on and filters through nicely. It sounds as though Ryder is hoping for a gritty charm, the darker side of his art shown on harmonica-laden Dirt. Off-kilter and ominous, like a fairground ride song where everything feels a tad Dutch and uncouth, Orange Head relays a chilling energy with almost constant appeal. Borderline orchestral workings on In the Ground, the echoes and layering found in this piece, bring about Ryder’s intentions. It may well be his best work to date. They eclipse his classics through their bold style and maintain good form the longer they are listened to. It is rare an artist of his calibre can bring about something so costly while also maintaining the artistic charm which brought listeners to this stage in his career. Orange Head is a perfect blur.
Death defines In the Ground, which never shakes its funeral march. It is far from the death of Ryder and his style though. Orange Head galvanises what was already so great about the man at the core of this project. Lead single Milk has all the energy of a Soulwax remix, the panting and dogged down thumps of the intro firing through an impressive dose of modern-day Black Grape. The hazy record-scratching and fine mixing of Self Harm begins bringing Orange Head to its naturally loud and bombastic conclusion. Wicked rumours on this penultimate track blur everything from multiverse mentions to sinister brass mixes. It all comes together with a stark and immense intensity last found on Black Grape’s debut record. This is far from the days of Stupid Stupid Stupid, which, in hindsight, was as its title suggested.
But Black Grape is back and listeners are all the better for it with the eardrum-rattling insanity found on Orange Head. Battering the brain with as much force as it can, loops and riffs galore as Ryder and the gang come back for another trip post-Pop Voodoo. A real force to be reckoned with at parts is Orange Head, which comes and goes with its style. Panda may be a bit of a letdown, over-reliant on what works for the other tracks, but it makes sense to pursue the style and funk which feels its way through the rest of the album. Had Ryder set out to prove he still has what it takes to assemble an acceptable Black Grape album with more than a few shining moments, then Orange Head will serve him, and listeners, well.