Graham Coxon, Happiness in Magazines (Astralwerks)
Frankly, Graham, I was faking it. My affection for you that is. Sure, I probably gushed over The Sky Is Too High, but when you weren’t looking I was rolling my eyes and turning off the record. There was still hope then for your proper band back in those days. But The Golden D tested my acting skills. I remember liking a few songs on the record, but I don’t even remember what they sounded like, because I haven’t played it since I reviewed it probably. And even looking back at that review, you can tell it’s just a recitation of what the record sounded like to me–a sure sign that it didn’t really move me. Then I just stopped faking it and forgot all about your records. Didn’t you put out another one or two in there? But that was before Happiness in Magazines…
Happiness rocks like nothing you’ve done before. It’s not that over-distorted thrash-punk that you gave us on prior solo records. It’s genuine rock music with loud, clean guitars and thumping drums. And it’s catchy. “No Good Time” is probably the most memorable song on the record and it just pumps along without trying to trip over itself.
“Freaking Out” revs it up a little, but the guitars stay pretty clean. It really shows off what you can do, Graham. The little licks in between the riffs pop right out of the speakers. “People of the Earth” is a perfectly credible nod to Bowie-esque space rock. It retains your guitar’s sparks and shows us a humorous side we never knew you had.
And then there’s the mid-tempo Kink-y pop songs like “Bittersweet Bundle of Misery,” “Bottom Bunk,” and “Hopeless Friend.” It’s the best of Brit-pop again without the camp.
Your lyrics are as sharp as your guitars and amusing like we never knew you could be. “Gonna do some coke ‘n’ maybe do some pokin’,” you sing in “No Good Time.” Then there’s “People of the earth, you are not cool. You eat hamburgers and go to school” from “People of the Earth.”
Overall, it’s your singing that makes the record shine like it does. You’ve finally found your voice. It still wavers a bit from note to note but that’s your style. You deliver the melodies and charming lyrics directly and complement your straight-ahead guitar playing.
Basically, you’ve found yourself. In between American indie rock and British pop, there’s your style. The guitar is angular but melodic, riffy but geeky. Like if Pavement could kick out a jam without being obtuse. Or if any number of British bands didn’t have sticks up their asses.
Was it Stephen Street producing that got you out of your shell? Hire him again. All I know is that even the ballad at the end feels good. The more I spin this disc, the more I enjoy it.
(Except for that blues song… seriously, man, the blues are stupid.)