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Happy Happy Happy

Poor Rich Ones

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Album Review

Poor Rich Ones had been creating enthralling and acclaimed pop music in their native Norway for half a decade (they won the Norwegian equivalent of the Grammy, the Spellemannsprisen, in 1998 for their second album) before making it to the shores of America with their third effort, Happy Happy Happy. It is hard to imagine a more enticing introduction than the album provides. The album features the kind of stunningly developed sonic world that, if not for the relative isolation of the band, would probably vault them into the elite along with likeminded bands such as Radiohead and Travis, or at least into cult-favorite territory alongside an eccentric combo such as Sparklehorse. These are comparisons that the music easily supports and, in many ways, stands above. Poor Rich Ones also create richly melancholic pop with melodies that can bring tears to your eyes, and then tops it off with the gloriously anguished vocals of guitarist William. He sings in a fragile falsetto that is chillingly similar at times to that of Thom Yorke but with an ethereal heartsickness all its own. Unlike the works to which you could compare it, if so inclined, though, there is nothing detached or alien about Happy Happy Happy. It swaps sweeping conceptualizations for something much more radical: overwhelming waves of emotion. The music has a purity of motive that gets beyond cynicism. It has both knowing and naïve qualities; or rather, the songs allow extreme disappointment and extreme rapture to exist within the same experience without judging one as better or worse than the other. They are works of transport but also the stuff that keeps you tethered to your lives, passionate pleas and small, temporary celebrations wrapped in some of the most evocative melodies. Rarely is a chorus as instantly sorrow-pitched and transcendent as the one that floats from "Drown." The song has a core sensitivity about it that can't be fabricated, and yet William sings like a resolute man, as if he has made a self-promise never to be fooled by love, even if it seems likely that he will be, as most are. In fact, the song in part oscillates between delusion and resolution, and is more true to the impulse of love because of it. "May Queen," too, sounds as if it is swimming in confusion, some of the time suffocated, some of it dreaming itself out into the open air. Producer Mark Trombino (Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World) does a wonderful job allowing the songs to take flight along with their otherworldly melodies, even when the band is constructing sometimes agitated sonic walls with its guitars. Beneath the traditional guitar-bass-drums setup, keyboards and vibes (and strings on the title track) poke holes in those walls allowing the music to breathe and flourish, or, as on the stunning "Things to Say When You're Not Here," electronics create a swirling, gorgeous hymn. As one song title accurately describes, it is album of new lullabies, but instead of gentle dreams, it stimulates states of recognition, which are trickier to handle but ultimately more liberating epiphanies. A bleedingly beautiful and brilliant record, Happy Happy Happy deserves every critical hosanna that was offered to The Bends and The Man Who, and then an endless stream of its own.

Customer Reviews

Sigur Rós Meets Radiohead?

A buddy who is something of an audiophile passed this album along to me in 2000, and I remember how much I love it every time I get a chance to listen to it again. It has the haunting, soaring qualities of a Sigur Rós, while maintaining clever, off-beat melodies- much in the vain of a Radiohead. Give it a listen.

Biography

Formed: 1994

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Scandinavia, as a region, seems to have a knack for producing soft-voiced but passionate rock & roll, whether it's the easy listening grooves of the Cardigans or the fragile '80s highs of a-ha, to name two of many bands. Another in the long list of groups fitting that description appeared in the late '90s with Poor Rich Ones, a Norwegian band based out of Bergen around singer/guitarist William, guitarist Espen, bassist Tor, and drummer Ludwig. Originally coming together as a quartet, the band...
Full Bio
Happy Happy Happy, Poor Rich Ones
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