Saturday, July 11, 2009

Robert Pollard: Normal Happiness (2006)

In my write-up for From a Compound Eye, I mentioned that it, along with its sibling Normal Happiness, are the two Pollard albums I listen to the most. They are likely my favorite albums in the entire GBV-related catalog, so it probably wouldn't surprise you that all but one of the tracks from FACE made the playlist (and the majority of those on Normal Happiness are going to as well). That being said, the majority of the comments I received from my FACE post, either through email, the comments section, or that chat thing I have on the right of the screen, are focused on the exclusion of Payment for the Babies off the playlist. When this happens, I tend to spend some time with the song and see if I can figure out what I'm missing, and in this case, I can not. Payment for the Babies stays off the playlist, and once again we have proof that every single song of the GBV library has its supporters. Alright, now lets get to this great album...

I would consider Normal Happiness the little brother of FACE; safer, not nearly as epic, overall lower-fi, more controlled, smaller, but it looks and sounds quite like its older brother. Following the same recording technique as FACE, this collaboration with Todd Tobias also focuses on the more poppy sound of Pollard's.

Perhaps low key pop is a better description, as there is a duller edge to most of the tracks preventing them from sounding too radio-friendly (unlike I'm a Strong Lion from FACE). The opener Accidental Texas Who sets the mood right off the bat, with its upbeat riffs and carefree feel. Whispering Whip follows with an almost fantasy-inspired minute ("Whispering whip, your spirit is locked inside/but that's not how we died") which builds to a great finish.

Supernatural Car Lover seems to hold the same position of Dancing Girls and Dancing Men did for FACE, and I'm not just referring to them both being the third track on the album. Like Dancing Girls and Dancing Men, Supernatural Car Lover sounds like it is meant to be the album's big song...the lead single if Pollard's albums truly had singles. Its jangly pop, light lyrics ("And your proud man's blues/and your jumpshot too"), inclusion of the album's title in the lyrics, and wicked guitar solo all make it Normal Happiness' focus point.

Boxing About has a cutesy riff throughout, and is one of those tracks where you find there is much more going on after a few listens. Serious Bird Woman represents one of those common little annoyances (while also being a fairly cool thing) about Pollard's music...those songs where they are so-so except for about 5 to 10 seconds which are just totally amazing. In the case of this track, it is the short chorus when Pollard croons "serious birdwoman, your turn me on/in" and the few chords after it.

My favorite track on Normal Happiness may very well be Get A Faceful. The one-time chorus ("Do you lose control?/Get a faceful, keep it uptight/Do you risk parole with a convict's soul?/Get a faceful, wear it with pride") is my favorite moment on the album. Towers and Landslides continues the casual tone of the album, and I Feel Gone Again is the shortest song on the album, which by the way has the majority of the songs around or under two minutes long.

Gasoline Ragtime mixes psychodelic and bluesy-rock, and Rhoda Rhoda makes its own case for being the album's "hit", and can be described as The Beach Boys meet punk rock. Give Up the Grape is the heavy stand-out on Normal Happiness, and (along with Pegasus Glue Factory) have the highest play count on my iPod for this album. It inludes the awesome lines "I drink myself astray/from shadows of fantastic middle-earth/" and "I hide myself in dream/from Howdy Doody's terrorist regime". Pegasus Glue Factory almost seems like an odd continuation of Give Up the Grape, combined making one epic track. The two tracks, in my opinion, are the closest ties to the sound of FACE, with their shifts in tone and mix of heavy and softer sounds.

My interest in Normal Happiness starts to wane during the final act, where other than Robert Pollard's apparent channeling of Wayne Coyne on Join the Eagles, Tomorrow Will Not Be Another Day is the brightest spot. So for those giving me grief about leaving only one song from FACE off the playlist, a whole three tracks are being left off from Normal Happiness!

Normal Happiness is an excellent album. Though less ambitious than FACE, I like to see it as a continuation, or addendum to FACE, as I usually listen to the two albums together. These albums were one hell of an introduction to Pollard's post-GBV career!

Tracklisting (songs in know the drill):

01 Accidental Texas Who
02 Whispering Whip
03 Supernatural Car Lover
04 Boxing About
05 Serious Bird Woman (You Turn Me On)
06 Get a Faceful
07 Towers and Landslides
08 I Feel Gone Again
09 Gasoline Ragtime
10 Rhoda Rhoda
11 Give Up the Grape
12 Pegasus Glue Factory
13 Top of My Game
14 Tomorrow Will Not Be Another Day
15 Join the Eagles
16 Full Sun (Dig the Slowness)


Anonymous said...

pegasus glue factory makes my top ten all-time bob penned tunes.......the live version replaces that high pitched synthesized(?) sound with an electric guitar

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Anonymous said...

I would adore Supernatural Car Lover if Bob's vocals were a little less flat.

morningbill said...

This is my first post. I'm a huge Pollard fan. I'm from Italy. This album is a masterpiece in my opinion. Thank you for this great blog. Keep up the work!

Anonymous said...

Totally agree! Except the first 13 are on my list. Top Of My Game is beautiful, and would be played over the end credits of my imaginary Bob biopic.