The Victoria, British Columbia band’s second release on major label Sire, it’s the first since guitarist Dante DeCaro left and was replaced by Luke Paquin (singer Steven Bays was also splitting up with his long-time girlfriend at the time). The shift from 2005’s Elevator isn’t hugely pronounced, but the band seems to be wisely trading in some of their excess tempo changes for some much-needed heft and drive.
Unsurprisingly for such a single-bop band, two of Happiness Ltd.’s top tracks are its two first singles, “Give Up?” and “Let Me In”. Both employ a winning, carrying uplift, the former with some big, orchestral disco-fun, and the latter with more of a straight-up series of builds and stops. But the best – and most promising – piece has to be “Harmonicas & Tambourines”. Darker and more pressing than other Hot Hot Heat, its force still has pop sensibilities, including a catchy, almost wistful chorus.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of Happiness Ltd. feels like the band played it safe. “Conversation”, “So So Cold”, and the leadoff title track all have nice back-lines, but not enough put upon those structures. The reworking of “5 Times Out Of 100” (originally from 2002’s Knock Knock Knock EP) is a definite improvement, with fun, bopping, scrambled beats, but still gets a bit lost, while “My Best Friend” just feels like a slightly more pressing version of “5 Times”.
There are, however, some nice, if tentative, steps taken into a sadder arena. “Outta Heart” wears itself on its sleeve, without being too emo, while “Good Day To Die” has a grand nature, and finisher “Waiting For Nothing” displays real emotional power. But too often, these pieces are more interesting as changes on Happiness Ltd. than as something that can really stand up on its own.
No one would confuse the Hot Hot Heat for maestro composers, but their brand of appealing indie-dance has always been a bit more frenetic, hyper, or even hard to pin down. And while that has given them some classic singles, from 2003’s “Bandages” on forward, it’s left the rest of their music a little nauseating, their seas a bit too choppy. But with Happiness Ltd., they’re not just riding out the storm, but settling it as well. This has had a double reward, both in more graspable beats, and also a bit more of a dramatic underpinning that they really needed.
MP3 Stream: "Harmonicas & Tambourines"