The Shamen – Hempton Manor

After many different incarnations, The Shamen‘s penultimate contribution to the world of music was with the entirely instrumental, fundamentally doped out Hempton Manor, released this week two decades ago.

Opening the album is Freya, built around a small warbly synth sequence, and clocking in at almost six minutes. It’s strange to think that this followed so soon after they were last seen chasing the charts with Axis Mutatis, and it’s not difficult to understand why their label One Little Indian found it difficult to promote this release – a fact which ultimately led to The Shamen going off to a small indie label, disappearing into obscurity, and never really being seen again.

Apparently all the titles of tracks on here are inspired by weed in some way, and so Urpflanze (“ancient plant”) is perhaps no surprise. Musically, it’s much more chilled out than its predecessor, although still driven by frenetic beats. Roughly halfway through, you do get a few reminders of some of the duo’s previous work as the countermelodies come together, but it’s still something of a departure.

In many ways, the lack of vocals helps, actually. I’m not sure lyric writing was necessarily ever The Shamen‘s strong point, but by the mid-1990s they had definitely lapsed into semi-mystic (possibly drug-addled?) drivel about crossing the Rubicon, and fun though that is, it does have its limits.

Trying to describe some of these tracks will inevitably make me look stupid. Cannabeo is a sweet drum and bass track full of electronic warblings and churning bass. On they come – after a while, Khat seems to blend into Bememe and already you’re halfway through the album.

Wikipedia, despite not containing any references, does reveal another fascinating fact about the titles on the album – it turns out they’re an acrostic, spelling out “Fuck Birket”, as a reference to their record label boss Derek Birket. The suggestion that the whole thing was intended to release them from their responsibilities therefore seems particularly likely.

Consequently, there was no single from this album – the closest they came was with the beautifully catchy Indica, which appears on their subsequent singles album The Shamen Collection and also led their promo Hemp EP, accompanied by a number of tracks which I’d assume are reworkings. It should have been a huge hit, but that was clearly never going to happen.

But if this whole release was intended as a bit of a joke at their record label’s expense, it’s still far from a waste of time as a listener – proof, were it needed, that The Shamen had a lot going for them in their day. Rausch is another chilled out piece, and Kava is certainly the closest this group had come to an acoustic track since the 1980s (possibly ever). There’s really nothing bad here.

El-Fin is, contrary to the name, the penultimate track on the album, and plods along very nicely, leading us through to the actual closing track, The Monoriff. By the end, you’re left wondering quite what went wrong for The Shamen – Axis Mutatis is great, Hempton Manor is too, UV is… questionable at best, and that was it for their career under that moniker. Or alternatively, you could just enjoy sixty minutes of great instrumental music, and not worry too much about it.

You can still find Hempton Manor through all major retailers.

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