Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Little Big Town – Happy People

No, Pharrell isn’t involved again…


Katie Gill: All right, Little Big Town, you’ve won me back over. “One of These Days” sounded like Pharrell, “Better Man” sounded like Taylor Swift, but “Happy People” is wonderful: a lazy, calm, relaxing track that effortlessly showcases the group’s trademark harmonies and, most importantly, actually sounds like Little Big Town. The ending is far too abrupt for its own good, but really, I can’t think of how else it could be ended.

Thomas Inskeep: I liked “Better Man” all right when we reviewed it last fall, but it’s improved in the context of LBT’s eighth, and best, album, The Breaker. The songs are strong, their voices are superb, but the real secret to the album’s artistic success is producer Jay Joyce. I’ve never heard an album quite like it before: it’s a commercial, mainstream country album on which some of the songs almost sound like Brian Eno had a hand in them. “Happy People” is a Lori McKenna co-write, so of course it’s great, and Karen Fairchild gets the lead vocal, so of course that’s great, too. And the production is magical — the verses sound like they’ve been submerged, just briefly, in a bog. That said, the song’s stalling in the 40s on the Country Airplay chart, and the production is probably to “blame,” but that’s radio’s loss. (Also, dropping out the music and having Fairchild sing the last line a cappella is a brilliant move.)

Tim de Reuse: A driving beat that locks with a clunky bassline in a hypnotic, krautrockian sense, and a message that’s mercifully straightforward but seems more suited (both in length and in substance) to a lullaby than a full country arrangement. It’s a nice tune, but it seems to demand that the listener should only half-listen to it; otherwise, it just kind of folds and gives up under the weight of your attention.

Anthony Easton: Crosses that very thin line between happy and insipid.

Maxwell Cavaseno: Y’know, the idea that depression or rage leads to sincerity is one that frankly is as full of shit as the “hey, why don’t ya smile, buddy?” browbeating here. I’m sure they mean well, and contrary to belief, I like the idea that Little Big Town are encouraging me as a listener to be happy for a moment. But the record sounds more tepid, more reduced to sterility, than at peace.

Alfred Soto: For all that I disagree with these mothballed sentiments — happy people can hate too — the bland tick-tock-tock of the arrangement and vocal gets under my skin. When Karen Fairchild sings, “Here’s to whatever brings a smile to your face,” she could mean chewing on kittens. 

Iain Mew: What could be well-crafted but preachy fluff is rescued by the way that it lets in uncertainty — the organ especially sounds like contemplation rather than action, and they sing with a sense of awareness that the lyric’s most open “whatever makes you happy” is the most important part. I even hear in the more prescriptive bits a hint of a smirk, which may just be an effect of the echo of Bucks Fizz in the ascending melody, but works rather well.

Katherine St Asaph: Shiny — not like Pharrell productions, though, but like indie-folk, which fosters its own sort of stifling happiness. And yet this would be a drastically worse song if it were either more poppy (imagine the American Authors horrors) or more homespun (imagine the dilute-Americana beigeness). So while Lori McKenna and Brandy Clark’ve grafted about three separate morals onto this song hoping the juxtaposition seems just so, and you’d think Clark would prod at them more, if the arrangement makes me happy, it can’t be that bad.

Ryo Miyauchi: Perhaps “Happy People” would’ve been a blankly optimistic song in the band’s previous, Pharrell-assisted Wanderlust era. Maybe there was a draft of this that sounded too didactic. However they got to this understated tone, it pleases me to hear such a humble balance between feel-good and moralistic. Take their advice — or don’t! It’s a sigh of relief in a pop climate where I feel pressured to take home something beyond entertainment with every record.

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