Published on 10th August 2018
Happy Rhodes – Ectotrophia
When I listened to Security Project’s 2017 live release, Contact, I was introduced to the amazing singer Happy Rhodes, who had taken over from Brian Cummins. Security Project were launched back in 2012 to recreate material from Peter Gabriel’s first four solo albums following his departure from Genesis, shortly after they had finished their 1975 tour for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. When I first listened to Contact, and Rhodes’ versions of the songs, with her performing both Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s parts, I was completely taken aback. It was something not just new, but spellbinding and mysterious at the same time.
Earlier this year the Numero Group released Ectotrophia, a compilation album covering Happy’s first four releases from 1986 to 1987, originally released on cassette on the Aural Gratification label. The music is described as Art, Pop and Electronic, and Rhodes herself takes the music to various landscapes that are ominous, joyful and mystical.
With the influences of Queen, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie, Rhodes soars through the surreal beauty with a dreamy aspect that makes your eyes open wide, to see what you’ve been missing. According to an interview this year with Anil Prasad on Innerviews: Music Without Borders, Anil asked her about how the art of arrangements manifests for her. She replied, “It all comes down to segments of musical ideas and whether or not I feel they work together. That’s what forms arrangements for me. But in my case things are very much spur of the moment. Nothing comes to me until I sit down to do it. I’ll hear a sound and something snaps and I go ‘Oh that’s it. That’s what I’m running with right now.’ And then a whole section of music would just somehow dictate to me.”
And that’s what she does, deciding whether the music will work or not, and if it does, she’ll use some of the brainstorming ideas to guide her in the direction she wants to go. The eighteen tracks on this compilation show Rhodes can take these ideas and create them inside both her heart and mind.
Come Here, which appeared on her second album, simply titled II, is a Celtic waltz meets acoustic pop. Rhodes’ lyrics describing a man’s obsession with a woman, but he has a dark side and wants to make her his property, so she has to play devil’s advocate and tread very carefully. On I’ll Let You Go Rhodes channels her own take of American psychedelic rock band Love’s Forever Changes. Here both the acoustic and electric guitars are recorded with large reverbs, suggesting a dark and cavernous cave or a Gothic church, before the ending synths draw you into a deep, dark forest.
In contrast the synths of I Cannot Go On resemble the post-rock and new wave sounds of the early ‘80s, tackling the theme of time coming to an end for a person’s life, the struggle for dreams that will never happen as they near the day they die. Happy brings the listener inside the person’s mind, showing the difficult times they have to go through to try and carry on, but they have no chance as they go insane, unable to live without the hopes and imaginations they once had. Percussion loops meet the haunting synths on When the Rain Came Down which changes into choral harmonies, followed by the acoustic finger picking and rhythm for Happy to sing both high and low arrangements.
The ascending synths on Because I Learn sends you towards the sky as Rhodes sings both lead and background harmonies. You can feel the pain inside the character from what she has had to go through and knowing that death is approaching, she wants to see a flash sign of hope before the end in the essence of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
With Perfect Irony I can hear some comparisons with The Blue Ship’s 2013 debut, The Executioner Lover. I can imagine Paul Napier taking some influences for that album from Happy Rhodes. There are crossovers between Tears for Fears and Talk Talk-like keyboard and drum machine ballads that go beyond the structure of death and give another chance of life to do things right.
The closing track, To Be E. Mortal, clocks in at eight minutes. I always see Rhodes as a film composer, I can close my eyes and imagine this track being used as the ending credits for the Directors Cut of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or the ending of Linda Hamilton’s character Sarah Connor riding towards the mountains in Mexico before the storm comes through in James Cameron’s 1984 classic, The Terminator.
The album contains a 48-page booklet, with interviews by Erin Osmon, which details Happy’s history, influences, her artwork; an interview with Pat Tessitore who founded Cathedral Sound Studio in 1975, and one with radio DJ Vickie Williams who played some of her early music. Not only that, but it contains the lyrics, and Rhodes’ album cover artwork for the first four albums.
Ectotrophia comes highly recommended if you first heard Happy Rhodes with Security Project, either on record or in live performance. This was an experience for me, discovering how she’s brought such amazement, intelligence, and ability to the sound and vision of her music.
01. Oh The Drears (3:15)
02. I Cannot Go On (4:08)
03. Would That I Could (4:12)
04. Where Do I Go (3:28)
05. For We Believe (2:49)
06. When The Rain Came Down (5:45)
07. If Love Is A Game, I Win (5:34)
08. I’m Not Awake, I’m Not Asleep (3:22)
09. Baby Don’t Go (4:11)
10. Come Here (3:56)
11. Don’t Want To Hear It (4:55)
12. If So (3:37)
13. I’ll Let You Go (3:57)
14. Because I Learn (3:41)
15. I Am A Legend (4:07)
16. Perfect Irony (4:01)
17. Many Nights (2:51)
18. To Be E. Mortal (8:16)
Total Time – 76:18
Happy Rhodes – Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar
Record Label: Numero Group
Date of Release: 29th June 2018