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CD Review: Ex-Blur Guitarist Coxon Finds ‘Happiness in Magazines’

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Happiness in Magazines is the second solo album from Graham Coxon since his departure from Blur two years ago. The difficulties leading to Coxon’s departure from Blur are well documented and enough time has passed that they are not worth repeating. Coxon claims any animosity between he and the band are gone but he still wants to move forward in his own direction.

That direction is 2005′s Happiness in Magazines. The D.I.Y. aesthetic that characterizes Coxon’s previous solo albums is still evident but Steven Street’s production has smoothed the rough edges. The gloss makes the album an accessible affair without rendering it punchless. There should be a place in rock for albums like this. Music would be in a much better state if these were the worst songs afflicting radio.

It is a competent and confident effort, but it is an album with very few memorable songs and lacks a defining moment. There are hooks, but they are small and fail to hold the listener for very long. And no amount of spit and polish can disguise Coxon’s vocal limitations. Happiness almost always sounds like what it is: an album made by a former sideman-turned-frontman.

GRADE: B-

These are (unedited) notes I took during my first to spins of Happiness. Comments from Graham Coxon his ownself precede my commentary:

1 – Spectacular: [Graham Coxon]‘That’s about seeing a picture of Shannyn Sossamon on the computer and just thinking, “Good God what a beautiful woman!” And that’s it. I suppose sonically it’s a swampy, clangy maraca driven frustrated sort of song of admiration. But I’m not a stalker.’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: Kinks-y riff with slightly a-tonal vocals
Upon Further Review: Vocals are still underwhelming on the second listen

2 – No Good Time: [GC]‘It’s about being at a party feeling extremely out of place; seeing people sinking into the ground via nostrils and powder basically. I was socializing inadequately at the time. I’m very fond of the guitar solo in that song. And I was very pleased with the sneering ,comments about Hoxton culture. But it’s not meant to be taken too seriously.’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: Sneering britpop punk-ish tune
Upon Further Review: the vocals are less annoying on the second spin, but the song is still a bit of a throwaway

3 – Girl Done Gone: [GC]‘It was pure fantasy. I was pretending that I had a girlfriend who was chucking me. I wasn’t really going out, so I did have to fantasies at that point – but no one can forget how it feels to be dumped. The outro instrumental on that made me very happy to have made it.’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: Blues dirge with a killer bit of guitar work to finish the track
Upon Further Review: this song wants to be on a White Stripes record. the vocals are more than a tad too nasal, but the guitars are pretty cool

4 – Bittersweet Bundle of Misery: [GC]‘I think it’s just got an old 70s electric folk sort of rhythm to it. I do like that rhythm. The song’s a tragic-comedy; I’m very fond of it. I’m lying there either feeling hungry or randy. I’m not sure which. Probably A bit of both.’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: Acoustic-based, hum-along, vocals approach pleasant if sill unspectacular, nifty organ solo gives the song a retro vibe
Upon Further Review: Lyrics are a bit silly… rhyming ‘after’ and ‘dafter’, “the way you used to kiss was way out of sight” is taking this retro vibe a bit far. still solid effort.

5 – All Over Me: [GC]‘It’s about a few sensory obsessions I have. I was always rather prone to fainting when I experienced more than a little excitement or pain, rather like a narcoleptic, when I was younger. This scared me, but also fascinated me … that feeling of the void. So I mixed my liking of showers, bed sheets, the color of blood and the comfort of being held by a girl with that’.
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: lovely strings open the song with some psychadelic string flourishes throughout the song, most confident vocals on the album to this point
Upon Further Review: These might be the best vocals on the whole CD. The subject matter is not grand, but the song is well executed.

6 – Freakin’ Out: [GC]‘It’s about feeling the helplessness of wanting to do stuff, like play rock ‘n’ roll to people but not being able to do it quite yet and being slightly scornful of those people that are doing it at the moment and thinking, well I wanna play to people but there’s nothing going on now and I’ve gotta sit at home and write songs and it’s driving me fucking mad, so I’m watching TV.’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: guitars and sneer are turned back up after a two song break, tuneful rocker
Upon Further Review: tuneful? that might have been a little kind. not sure what I meant there. anthem of alienation and boredom.

7 – People of The Earth: [GC]This is someone sitting up there and seeing all the problems on earth and they’re going, I’m gonna fuckin destroy you cos you’re a load of stupid twats, you earthlings. And I guess it’s Londocentric. London can turn you into a paranoid lunatic who thinks the world is evil!’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: The lyrics are, well to borrow a phrase from the song, shite. They’re funny if you take them tongue in cheek. And if that is how Coxon meant them, it is a fun novelty number. If he is trying to make a point, he should stop.
Upon Further Review: ery straight forward rocker. Still cannot be taken seriously. Fun filler.

8 – Hopeless Friend: [GC]‘It’s kind of 60s with a slightly baggy groove in the middle. It’s about young people – drawing on me own experiences of being young when you’ve got that energy that can get you through anything. There’s something magic about that kind of hunger.’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: “wash your hair, you smell like a goat”, decent layered vocals and some shiny guitars
Upon Further Review: the guitar solo is solid. good song, lyrical shortcomings notwithstanding

9 – Are You Ready?: [GC]‘That’s kind of Scott and Ennio mixed together. It’s about the idea of coping with loneliness. It’s not a happy song, but it is true. I guess quite a lot of sad things are true. I’m not as damning now as when I wrote that. I do always believe in love. You’ve gotta really. Otherwise what’s the fucking point?’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: sullen vocal, string accents, not memorable
Upon Further Review: it has a sort of trippy, beach-y, Middle Eastern vibe to it. it is hard to describe it… sounds similar to the music playing in the background of “Pulp Fiction” when Travolta shoots up. this one has grown on me and the guitar flourishes are very good

10 – Bottom Bunk: [GC]‘That’s a fantasy about having a holiday. I know the lyrics are a bit crude, but it’s the truth. I wanted to give that feeling of being on the beach with your Tia Maria trying to have a nice time in the sun but you’re getting hassled from this girl you’re with. So I just put it into that beachy Camden calypso setting.’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: crass, silly lyrics (but big ups for an overt masturbation reference), acoustic base, vocals are grating at times
Upon Further Review: the lyrics are still dumb, but there is a groove.

11 – Don’t Be a Stranger: [GC]‘I imagine this one to be some sort of strange situation with flat mates where one of them is just appalled by the other’s behavior. He’s obviously some insane drug-addled lunatic and it’s the idea that living with people like that you don’t know what the hell you’re gonna come across the next morning.’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: opens a capella, which is a bad idea for such an average singer, nothing of note here
Upon Further Review: vocals are painful. standard guitar riff. I like the marimbas.

12 – Ribbons and Leaves: [GC]‘I suppose this is memories of going through my Granddad’s house after he died. I remember I got his tin hat from the war and I got to think about soldiers. I think soldiers get a bad rap. So it’s just about the aftermath of some sort of life that seems puny when it’s gone but meant a lot while it was there. It ends the album because I couldn’t really imagine going from that to another song. But it’s kind of positive in a very sad way. And it really did help support my love of life.’
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: piano opens the song, sentimental bit about his grandfather, not a great ballad despite the song’s grand intentions
Upon Further Review: Earnestness cannot overcome Coxon’s vocal limitations, the acoustic melody has a haunting quality. I don’t dislike this one as much as I did the first time, although it is still not a great ballad.

13 – Right to Pop:
DJRadiohead’s First Impression: bonus track, and it sounds like one. pleasant toss-off song with annoying freak-out vocals and organ outtro.
Upon Further Review: Blur fans should like this one.

About Josh Hathaway

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/djradiohead DJRadiohead

    I may have failed to mention that the ‘Cockney’ sneer is always fun to listen to… even if the music is shite. And in this case, it is not shite. Well, it is not always shite.