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Happy The Man

Eclectic Prog

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4 stars HAPPY THE MAN was the best thing to come out of Washington DC since FDR's New Deal, and arguably the most accomplished American Prog Rock band of their time. Even so, this outstanding 1989 compilation of their early, essential work hasn't attracted a single Prog Archives review until now, which is a shame, because it's the perfect introduction to a group that suffered, even more than most Progressive acts, from an almost criminal lack of exposure.

Part of their problem was a career that blossomed too late to catch the slipstream of a disappearing zeitgeist. But an even bigger hurdle was their eclectic, unclassifiable sound, not easily squeezed into the familiar Prog pigeonholes of the 1970s. They were never an easy band to pin down: complex but melodic, lush and cinematic, jazzy (but never jazz), and favoring a collaborative approach without the crutch of self-indulgent solos, a refreshing trait for a group of such clearly gifted multi-instrumentalists (including two keyboard players, neither one a subscriber to the popular Emerson/Wakeman model of mini-moog overkill).

The band always acknowledged their debt to the music of YES, GENESIS, and GENTLE GIANT. But they never borrowed more than just enough to fuel their own creative spirit, unlike the more slavish counterfeits of other stateside proggers (step forward, STARCASTLE).

Newcomers looking for a taste of the often elusive HTM style will find plenty to chew on here, from strictly coloristic mood pieces to more than one idiosyncratic rocker with a challenging (to say the least) time signature. You haven't lived until you've heard the accelerated stop-start synchronizations of "Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest" (...and how's that for a memorable song title?) Or the masterful "Service With a Smile", maybe the most compact and perfect realization of the Progressive Rock philosophy ever recorded. In something under three minutes this one song makes a complete mockery of all the knee-jerk anti-Prog accusations of pomposity and pretension, while still managing to turn an unlikely 11/8 meter into a toe-tapping powerhouse beat.

This collection includes almost all of the group's first two classic albums (with six out of nine tracks from their 1977 debut, and six of eight from the 1978 masterpiece "Crafty Hands"), plus three selections from their belated 1983 album "Better Late..." Most of the songs are in an economical four-to-five minute range, and all but one are entirely instrumental, which may help explain why their music has dated so little over the years.

Add a detailed history of the band, extensive notes on each of the songs, and updated biographies (through 1989, at any rate) of everyone who was ever involved with the group, and you have a generous and very attractive package designed to rekindle old memories or, better yet, spark new interest in one of Progressive Rock's best kept secrets. Let's hope their recent reunion earns them, at long last, some of the long- overdue attention they missed the first time around

Report this review (#3398)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars During the 70's, this was a band I never knew about. Probably because of the lack of coverage by the Australian press at the time. Then again, I'm sure many artists never attained the heights they deserved because of circumstances beyond their control. Happy the Man, as far as I'm concerned, must have been of them. I didn't know about them until 2003! Had I been aware of them in the 70's, I would surely have ranked them along the likes of Genesis, Gentle Giant, Yes, Focus, King Crimson, Todd Rundgren/Utopia, Zappa, Jan Hammer etc. The curious thing about this band is that they sound(ed) more British than their American contemporaries. HTM are definitely on the melodic side of 'prog' without the 'twee', or 'safe' commercial leanings of say Styx and Starcastle etc. Sure HTM were influenced by the 70's Genesis, Steve Hackett and GG, but are certainly not just a diluted copy. There was (is) plenty of personality and skill within the ranks to stand on its own merits. This 1989 compilation is a great introduction for anyone wishing to explore HTM. Ifind myself playing it quite regularly. ...I wonder who else I missed out on?
Report this review (#59095)
Posted Sunday, December 4, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I'm happy that mr Neumann did open the path for recognizing the perfect introduction to one of the best band in american prog history and maybe the ultimate most underated one! Over 70 minutes mainly from their two masterpieces who stood tall and sole at the end of the seventies while all the giants were already turning poppish... Wrong time wrong place could we say about Happy the Man. I can remember the first listen to the self title album - their debut had i thought wrongly at that time, and being stunned by the first notes of "Stumpy ..." , frenetic rythm, intricate interplay and above all, the keyboards sounds and wizardry of Kit Watkins. I've read since plenty of technical explanations about Watkins'mastery by clever auditors and musicians thus putting words over my personal emotions, but it has been the debut of a personal love affair with everything he has a recorded since , as part of Camel or as a solo artist.

You can say no wrong by comparing Happy the Man to Gentle Giant or Canterbury's alumnis, or admitting they were the natural son of british symphonic prog and american jazz rock , and yet not pay credit to their true inventiveness and hability to reach the perfect balance between instrumental virtuosity and sense of melody. Most would be caught by the upbeat compositions, but personally i think that their most magnificent colors were proposed in their slow tempos ones, Wyatt displaying his flutes and saxes, Watkins trading his electric virtuosity to delicate acoustic guitars, overwhich, evidently, Kit Watkins provided keyboards sounds that were, for me, not of this world. STARBORN, OPEN BOOK, HIDDEN MOODS are still true gems in my collection.

Thirty years later, this is one of the very few bands that still make it for me like the first time i've heard them at the time. That tells a lot about the quality of the production indeed which doesn't sound dated by the way. This is a must go for seekers of the lost treasures of the seventies progressive wreck.

Hat's off to Happy the man. Last word about their band name. Even if i'm french speaking, this is the ready made expression i use to express my moments of pleisure and hapiness, often related to music enjoyment. I'm indeed a "Happy the man" thanks two these fellows.

Report this review (#145915)
Posted Friday, October 19, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars After a first long break (ten years) without any HTM production, it was probably not a bad idea to release a compilation from this very discreet US band.

This compilation gets most of the track selection out of their first two albums, leaving only three spots (out of thirteen) for their third release "Better Late". This is actually a good choice, since I couldn't really cope with it (although the three ones featured are OK).

HTM plays an almost instrumental music, at times "Genesis" related, at times more on Crimson side ("Stumpy Meets.") or even VDGG.

There is no chronological order here, except the last three numbers which come from their last work. Some might argue about some songs which IMO shouldn't sit here like "Knee-Bitten Nymphus". This one being closer to their third source of inspiration, namely "Camel". "Steaming Pipes" is another jazzy oriented song like "Camel" produced at in the late seventies.

"Wind Up Doll" is one of their very few tracks with vocals is featured; It sounds almost as a "PFM" track (during the time that they used to sing in English). More complex and well constructed, it is one of the best song from this compilation work. "Open Book" is also very good, but fully Trespass-esque.

The longest song ("New York Dream Suite" being a kaleidoscope of their different styles (symphonic, jazzy, ambient).

Like my fellow reviewers (three), I believe it is a perfect introduction to the band and as far as I'm concerned, I don't need more than this one to summarize their career so far. Three albums in one.Fair enough. Three stars.

Report this review (#167197)
Posted Tuesday, April 15, 2008 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Happy The Man had the great misfortune of just coming into being at the same time that all of the major record labels were discovering, with the help of rock "journalists", that the public wanted (or were being told that they want by the above mentioned "journalists"), punk and disco. These brilliant minds found that they could pawn of cheaply produced records by groups that couldn't play to save their lives, and groups that came up with one lick, increased the bass EQ, and played that one riff until the polyester proles' heads went numb.

Therefore, this great band only released two LPs before calling it quits (two CDs of demos, one from before their records, and one from after, have since been released - and their comeback CD a few years ago). That means this single CD is able to hold most of the two albums and a few tracks from the CD of demos for the third album.

The songs show was a great and unique band HTM was. The songs are somewhere between fusion and symphonic prog, with a flair towards inventiveness. The songs can get a little bit lighter than I like at times, but they usually migrate away from that before too long.

Favorite tracks on this are Stumpy Meets The Firecracker In Stencil Forest, a roller coaster of a song, and New York Dream's Suite, one of the most grandiose songs by this band.

Report this review (#263059)
Posted Wednesday, January 27, 2010 | Review Permalink

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