Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy?

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A concept album of sorts -- the question posed by the title isn't answered until the final line of the album -- Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy?, like nearly everything else the band has released over the years, is clear and definite proof of the group's inspired, creative energy. More than once the trio hits amazing rock epic heights that have more sheer lift and charge than most anything that laid claim to the title -- about the only North American band at the time who had a similar feeling (if slightly different approach) was Drive Like Jehu. Songs like "The River," with a brilliant, powerful vocal matching the surging, rising riffs, and the constantly time-shifting prog/metal/punk master-stomp "Kill Everyone Now" sound like they're about to burst out of the speakers, come to life, and go off hunting and slaying. Even in short moments, like the mid-album minute-and-a-half "Happy Bridge," the sheer focus and live-wire kick of Nomeansno would leave most other bands gasping for air. That said, more than once this album found the band working in a bit more restraint here and there, almost as if the best response to grunge dominance was to find subtler ways to make the same point. Thus "The Land of the Living" mostly revolves around a low, snaky bassline that the band makes some righteous but not overwhelming noise over (and often keeps to near silence), building up to miniature climaxes throughout. "Machine" starts off calmer before getting more weirdly strident as it goes, while "I Need You" foregrounds the rhythm and vocals at the start, guitar parts echoing only briefly in the background, bringing everything up with a slow, controlled burn, exploding just when needed but ending on the same tense, threatening note.

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