Tom Slatter has made another album. Where, in the past, his music has prompted reviewers to describe him as a “quintessentially British eccentric with a quirky imagination” – and he has never failed to live up to that – this new album has shifted the emphasis and direction of his creativity to our reality rather than his previous character and story-led creations, and the results are startling and quite a bit more serious.
The phrase “Happy People” highlights, by means of irony, a totalitarian, near-future dystopian World, the description – or words to this effect – coming from Tom himself. He observes and describes a World filled with paranoia, with satellites that spy upon us as we try to love and live out our lives. It contains nihilistic, existentialist creatures who hover their hands, hesitantly, over buttons, the function of which and the outcome of the hovering we can only imagine to be bad, while they play out events that leave them bereft of companionship and alone. Others contemplate the opportunity of burning us all to relieve them – and us – of our sorrowful existences, to end the relentless and inescapable dread of all that could happen, but may not.
Tom set a high bar with his previous album, Fit The Fourth, and the production on his previous albums was never shabby, but Happy People is as slick as a buttered cormorant. The sounds on this album are altogether more band-like than on previous Slatter releases, for example, there are now some fantastic ways to emulate real drums but there is no substitute for a real drummer, and Michael Cairns’s drums are very real. Jordan Brown (who is also a member of Bad Elephant stablemate, The Rube Goldberg Machine) growls his bass at us, but when required subtly blends in like snowflakes on ice. The keyboards sound tremendous and suitably background in places, colouring in the overall shape of the guitar-oriented musical outline in which Daniel Bowles and Tom use their guitars, both rhythm and lead, to create big, full, heavy sound which becomes appropriately jangly as the songs demand.
When I’ve played this or earlier albums to friends and family they often tell me that Tom’s voice is not their cup of tea. I must admit that on occasion I thought it would be great if, for some of the musical phrases, there was evidence of Tom having smoked sixty Camel a day during the recording sessions – to achieve that earthy rasp. But this isn’t necessary. Tom is a master of harmony and possesses a distinctive voice, seemingly adopting additional techniques that make his singing on Happy People some of the best vocal performances I have heard from him to date. There appears to be a broader range of vocal styles on this album, perhaps because Tom’s is not the only voice in the mix, with the additional voices of Danny, Jordan and Suzette Stamp. In all places, of course, you will hear Tom’s familiar, rather uniquely choirboy-like voice.
Happy People has more hooks than the auditions waiting room for a well-publicised television series of Peter Pan. Throughout the album there is a depth to the songs that give them life, in a way that Tom has previously achieve only even more so.
What is evident is that Tom knows how to craft a song. I’ve tried writing songs and it’s not just a case of thumping trees with club hammers and throwing bassoons down lift shafts to record the noises. He uses crafty techniques like recurring musical themes in different songs. I developed a fondness for All Of The Dark which, if you play the album on repeat, blends straight back in to the first and title track Happy People in such a way that they could have been on a 1970s progressive rock album if presented in that order. Maybe that’s what appeals?
If you want a track by track account of Happy People then there are already several reviews out there that are worth reading. I would rather try and give an overall impression of the album and Tom Slatter as a musical artist, merely pointing out a few highlights as I see them, and for me there are many. Also, the Bandcamp link is included below so you can give it a listen.
The heavy opening riff of Even When We’re Scared jumps out immediately, especially as it is positioned deliberately, I’d wager, after the lower-energy Flow My Tears, and the quirky experimental instrumental Tracking Signals has a cornucopia of interesting noises and layers of sound. It might be easier to point out the tracks that were not highlights. Actually, it wouldn’t; Happy People is Tom’s most accessible album to date – with some of those damnably persistent earworms that I’ve been infected with for some time. I found myself in the bathroom this morning humming All Of The Dark. Riddled with ear-worms, this album is.
In conclusion, Tom’s sadness regarding this not-too-distant World is palpable, so given the near-future-we’re-all-fucked theme, is this all depressing doom and gloom? Paradoxically, no, not for me. I’m drawn to music that has menacing undertones, carries sad sounding chords or seemingly depressing lyrics. The 12-year-old nihilistic escapism-junkie in me recognises that I am not alone in feeling anxious or depressed or even furious at the apparent state of the World due to the seemingly mindless actions of many of you humans.
I found this album quite uplifting.
The thing you probably want to know is: Should I purchase this album? Well, I did and I am a very Happy People.
01. Happy People (5:40)
02. A Name In A File (5:57)
03. Satellites (4:42)
04. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (5:43)
05. Even Then We’re Scared (5:54)
06. Fire Flower Heart (4:41)
07. Tracking Signals (4:07)
08. Set Light To The Sky (4:53)
09. All Of The Dark (8:51)
Total Time – 50:28
Tom Slatter – Vocals, Guitars, Song Writing
Daniel Bowles – Backing Vocals, Guitars,
Jordan Brown – Bass, Backing Vocals,
Michael Cairns – Drums
Suzette Stamp – Backing Vocals
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Date of Release: 17th March 2017
Production: The Machine
Mixing: Daniel Bowles
Engineering: Daniel Bowles with Jordan Brown
Artwork: Joe Slatter