is the annual delivery from Graham Coxon, his fifth album, the one that may
help him become more popular. Indeed, “Happiness in Magazines” is more
ambitious than his previous records, abandoning the lo-fi production and
clumsiness of the past. Moreover, with the help of producer Stephen Street,
the generic influences in Coxon’s music become more precise. “Bittersweet
Bundle of Misery” echoes “Coffee and TV” which was the first single he
ever wrote and sung with Blur (…), “My Hopeless Friend”’s bass line
reminds of The Who. “Spectacular”, “Freaking out”, “My Hopeless
Friend” and “Don’t be a Stranger” are efficient post rhythm and blues
anthems, mixing pop with garage rock or punk. These songs really give a
maximum R n B atmosphere to the record, a kind of seventies show. These songs
also structure the record for the ambitious stuff in between. “All over
me” was surprising at first with the mellow violins and then so moving.
“Are You Ready” has something of Calexico. Why not?
“Happiness in Magazines” is not my favorite Coxon’s lp but I guess it’s easier on the ear and more worked out for someone stranger to his music. On the whole, the former blues and folk threads are less important in this album, replaced by more pop rock moods, still handed out by the genuine songwriting of Coxon. And that’s what worried me at first. His second solo album “The Golden D” was already an attempt at pretending to be a band with a low rated punkish atmosphere. Here, he succeeds in pretending to be a band (he plays all instruments) thanks to a worked out production. As a matter of fact, he paid much more attention to the singing which is more painstaking and clear-cut now, even adding back vocals and overdubs. The handling of the instruments is more precise too or maybe that’s just the production that is simply more refined, erasing the imperfections of a solitary dictatorship.The only souvenir from the past is the morning blues ‘Girl Done Gone’, a down tempo blues about a break up. The record ends with “Ribbons and leaves” which is a touching song with piano, so un-coxon style, paradoxically it's my favourite.
As a Coxon fan, I must say that “Happiness in Magazines” is a surprising record, but for the best. He succeeds in re-writing himself but I only wish he had kept some of his acoustic tunes. Buy it.
Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it.
-Angus ‘in the end we’re all the same’ Anderson.
/june 15th 2004/