Billy Squier

Happy Blue

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Poor Billy Squier: After four brilliant records, two with Piper and his first two solos (he refers to Don't Say No in "Pursuit of Happiness."), Squier fell victim to record company pressure and, like many '80s rock stars, lacked the business savvy to survive in the big time (at least he never coughed up an awful factory ballad smash). Out from under the limelight, he hides behind nothing on this bare-bones effort: just stark Squier and his guitar up-close and live. But Happy Blue is anything but happy. He still suffers from outside interference, as VH1 forced him to rerecord "The Stroke" for an acoustic performance, inadvertently instigating this project. Actually, his songwriting skills were never questioned, but production set apart most of his hits. Thus, on "Stroke Me Blues" the words don't fit the music. Squier's now a tired victim of "The Stroke," and bitterness peppers the entire album: "I don't wanna be happy/if happy means I got to be like you/wake up in the morning/try to satisfy somebody new." He alters Joni Mitchell's "River": "I've made a ton of money but I can't buy out this scene." Give Squier credit for stripping down, but this release is only for the faithful, which doesn't seem to matter to the Bostonian. He annotates the lyric booklet with wildly pretentious explanatory capsules: "Inferno," of course, sprang from Dante; this cut cascades with Zeppelin flourishes and "Long Way to Fall" drops Buckingham bits. "More than Words Can Say" (not the standard Leo Sayer covered nor the Alias monster ballad), "Grasping for Oblivion," and "If You Would Hate Me Less, I'd Love You More" are stunning and fit the style. Squier is truly talented and this record creeps up on the listener. By the end of Happy Blue, one prays the artist finds the peace he seeks.

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