Blue October have been around for some time as 'I Hope You're Happy' is their ninth studio album. However, I'm a newcomer to their music at the point this arrived for review. As the legendary bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan said to me recently, “there’s just not enough hours in the day to listen to every band there is”, in relation to the fact he’d never got into his current bandmate, Mike Portnoy’s, former band, Dream Theater. Indeed, he’s a hundred per cent correct. So, it’s not that I’ve consciously avoided Blue October’s music; rather, the opportunity hasn’t arisen to check ‘em out until now.
And it seems they’ve recently been creating quite a buzz in the UK, with a sold out show in London’s prestigious Shepherd’s Bush Empire earlier this year, and further dates on these shores are to be announced imminently. Press blurb informs they’ve already achieved chart success in their native US, across their eight album and eleven single releases to date. So, just what is all the fuss about?
‘I Hope You’re Happy’ is a musically electic-ish album that seems to switch between generic, bland, overly polished pieces, undoubtedly aimed at garnering as much airplay as possible, and tracks that actually have something a little more going for them. The first two tracks epitomise such a contrast. Opener, ‘Daylight’, is a slice of quasi-industrial pop that, while sounding great in terms of production, mix, performance, etc., is a little vacuous in its aesthetic content. A case of heard it all before, and better. However, 'Your Love is Like a Car Crash' is entirely a different ball game. It’s an emotively driven number that treads the line between melancholy and optimism. There are some fantastic vocals on this one, particularly with frontman Justin Furstenfeld's more gentle delivery. The instrumentation is beautifully layered, too.
Next up is 'I Want To Come Back Home', which has a promising string-based opening, but descends into bland and 'safe', radio-friendly fodder, complete with over-produced vocals. 'I'll Do Me, You Do You' also has a radio-friendly inherence and plodding affliction, although the true crime here is that it’s inescapably generic and mushy, pop pap… the kind of rubbish you’d expect to be vomited by a contestant on Simon Cowell’s karaoke contest. Well, maybe not that bad, but it’s by far the weakest track on the album.
The album continues with 'I Hope You're Happy'. With its popped-up, bouncy pulse that runs throughout, it sounds straight out of the 80s and is, actually, rather likeable. 'Colors Collide...' is an unexpected twist in proceedings, with its brooding, industrial alt-rock impetus working very well. Then there’s 'Remission in Cmaj...', which is a mellow, piano-based instrumental interlude.
'How to Dance in Time' is another plodding, down tempo piece that's nice enough, but doesn't really build on its opening promise and develop into anything that strikes a profound emotional chord within me. Very nice vocals, though. This is followed by 'King’, which sounds like it's a pastiche of something or other... can't quite put my finger on it but I've heard the central melody in this song before, and even in how the vocals are phrased. Originality takes a back seat here.
'Let Forever Mean Forever' starts as a kind of folky ballad, but develops into a more mid to up-tempo, uplifting, jingly-jangly composition. Nothing to get excited about with this one; another easy listening piece. Then there’s penultimate track, 'All That We Are', which is another fairly derivative number, although it's a well-executed composition that's heavy on the emotion. It sounds a little pedestrian in places, but serves as a great segue into the album’s nine minute climactical song, 'Further Dive (The House That Dylan Built)'. This final burst of Blue October is actually a pretty decent album closer, with a slow-burn build, showcases Furstenfeld's vocals at their emotional best, and with very nicely integrated orchestral strings.
All in all, I’ve found ‘I Hope You’re Happy’ something of a mixed bag. There are some definite standout, strong tracks, and those that succumb too much to a commercially friendly, bland sound, in terms of composition, execution and production. Some songs have an overt melancholic flavour, whereas others are more uplifting... and some in-between... across varying tempos. Generally speaking, though, what Blue October have delivered is a set of inoffensive, easy-on-the-ear tunes, that occasionally hit levels of emotional profundity, predominantly during the album’s more mellow moments with Furstenfeld's beautiful voice. I’m certainly now interested as to what their other eight albums sound like.
I HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY
Review by Mark Holmes
17th August 2018
2) Your Live is Like a Car Crash
3) I Want to Come Back Home
4) I'll Do Me, You Do You
5) I Hope You're Happy
6) Colors Collide
7) Remission in Cmaj
8) How to Dance in Time; 9) King
10) Let Forever Mean Forever
11) All That We Are
12) Further Drive [The House That Dylan Built]
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a set of inoffensive, easy-on-the-ear tunes, that occasionally hit levels of emotional profundity, predominantly during the album’s more mellow moments with Furstenfeld's beautiful voice."