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Happy The Man - Retrospective CD (album) cover


Happy The Man


Eclectic Prog

3.96 | 14 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
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

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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