Maybe we all set very high standards for Happy to live up to, but in all honesty, I think she's not only met those standards, but surpassed them, leaping forward artistically and emotionally in quantum leaps and bounds.
Building The Colossus is, in my opinion, Happy's finest album yet. When I go back and put on Warpaint or Equipoise, as I did over the weekend, I find myself eager to grab Building The Colossus and put it right back in the CD player that's been its home for the last few weeks. It is a remarkable record, there's so much there to be discovered, savoured, felt, and lived.
But it does, stylistically, break somewhat from what Happy has been doing up until now. Many of you have made references to what you hear as influences when listening to the album. These have surprised me, but I did delve into my record collection to have a listen and compare. Bowie, Yes, Genesis, etc.—none of these as comparisons can do this album justice. It owes nothing to any musical genre. It is its own musical genre. It is unique. One thing that always annoyed the hell out of me about "progressive rock" bands such as Yes and Genesis was their almost total lack of emotional depth, though drama and indulgence prevailed. There's such emotion in Happy's new album that it renders entire back catalogues of prog-rock obsolete. :)
What do I not like about the album? Hmmm. A couple of the mixes are shoddy ("Collective Heart" and "You Never Told Me" both suffer from lazy technical work, walls of tape noise and bad EQ) and the latter song doesn't seem to gel as well as it should with the rest of the album. But these are minor niggles.
Yes, I adore this album. Naturally, your mileage may vary. :-) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I think an important thing to note is the change in Happy's music with Building The Colossus. Happy's music up to this point has been darker, more melancholy, less mainstream. What seems to be missing from Building The Colossus is the brutal honesty of pain and loss and change, and the connection to the spirit world, so prevalent in her earlier works. Happy's music has become with Building The Colossus more, well happy. This is one of the reasons why Building The Colossus gets very little airplay on my CD player, there's nothing wrong with the music, it's just not really my frequency. Hopefully that gives you some indication as to why Building The Colossus is getting mixed reviews. (ItsyBitsyS@aol.com)
At the risk of being branded a heretic here, I shall admit after long hesitation (I bought the album when it first came out) that I am distinctly underwhelmed by Building The Colossus. The songs themselves seem to be up to her usual high standards, and her voice is as good as ever, but the arrangements and production on this album spoil much of it for me. Too often her voice is submerged beneath a simplistic dance-oriented drum machine beat and real drums sounding like a drum machine (to my mind, making the drums louder is no substitute for genuine excitement) and altogether there seems to have been little care taken in putting this album together: it seems rushed, slapdash, and not given enough thought and consideration. This seems to me to be a developing trend as (to my ears) the production on Equipoise was notably less inventive than that of Warpaint and tended to rely overly on a few stock techniques (e.g. flying in a curtain of string synth filler to shore up a weak arrangement). Having said that, I do like several of the songs on the album: "Glory" is superb (tho' I hate the studio chatter on the intro), "Down Down" works well, "Big Dreams, Big Life" and "If I Ever See the Girl Again" are pretty good, and the lyrics of "Collective Heart" are wonderful. I wonder if it is significant that the tracks I like form the last third of the album! (email@example.com)
My main criticism of Building The Colossus is that I quite simply do not like those drum-machines. Where did all the excitement and genius of Warpaint go???
Well, I like the drum machines. Take "Hold Me" for example. It is warmth and humanity meeting technology, and it wouldn't have worked quite as well arranged with more conventional instruments. The song that irritates me on Building The Colossus, actually—the only song that does—is laden with so-called "real" instruments playing tired variations on progressive rock (ugh) arrangements. Guess which track, people.... :)
There's more excitement and genius in the production of Building The Colossus than the previous two combined. Just today I was listening to a tape in my walkman which I'd compiled of various artists, and the last song on side A is "Hold Me". Production-wise it blew away all that preceded it. It doesn't follow the rules, and that's what makes it so compelling.
There are some other things about Building The Colossus that I find irritating and disappointing. First, there is quite a lot of tape hiss in some places (I don't remember which track). Tape hiss irritates me, especially when it only appears on some tracks, and seems to follow certain instruments. The way the tape hiss appears on Building The Colossus reveals that either some bad equipment were used, or that some sort of mistake was made during the recording.
My guess is that the problem was in the mixing, which if I recall correctly was done very quickly. Considering that the recording was done digitally on ADAT and mixed digitally onto DAT, what we have here is desk noise, effects noise, or noise from something else like a musical instrument. Now, such noise is easily hidden by noise-gating the tape track in question until something appears on it; on "Collective Heart" during the intro a track is suddenly brought in, way too early, and what comes out is hiss. There's probably a reason for it, but we'd have to ask Kevin or Happy that. I'm sure they know it's there.
Secondly, the stereo sound image is concentrated between the loudspeakers, in contrast to for example Warpaint where the sounds and instruments are practically 'everywhere' (what I'm trying to say is that Building The Colossus is 'less stereo' than Warpaint). This is quite unnecessary. Happy can do much better, just listen to Warpaint. (Alvin.Brattli@phys.uit.no)
A lot of the effects on Warpaint and Equipoise seem to sit out of phase with the rest of the mix, a technique often used deliberately to expand the stereo stage (I used it myself when mastering the EP I produced). Building The Colossus was mixed in a different studio, and the equipment there is naturally different, as is the monitoring and the way those behind the desk perceive the sound. Less instruments are hard-panned left or right to fill out the mix; instead the mix is filled out by what is obviously a really nice stereo reverb unit, probably a Lexicon. To me, the end result is that where Warpaint and Equipoise sounded crisp and almost clinical, Building The Colossus sounds warm and organic.
For me, Building The Colossus was not disappointing at all. It was absolute confirmation of what I'd always suspected: that Happy Rhodes is an artist that can take the musical influences she's accumulated over the past years, and fuse them with technology and a wild inventiveness via her warm, moving, funny, beautiful, intoxicating songs. Building The Colossus takes Happy to another stage in her musical evolution—and it's of a quality many big-name artists spend years and millions of dollars attempting to reach.
Myself, I think "Hold Me" is one of the best things Happy has ever recorded, and ditto for "Down Down". The title track is also a favorite with me. And "Just Like Tivoli" is simply beautiful. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This album had damned well better get the attention it deserves, because it's definitely Happy's most accessible album yet. The songs are radio-friendly, and could do quite well given the proper promotion. Sadly, I don't see that happening with Aural Gratification's current resources, but I hope to be proven wrong!
However, I don't think "radio-friendly" is necessarily a good thing, as far as quality goes, but I've only listened to the disc all the way through once, so I'm reserving judgement for quite a while. :)
Here are first impressions, on a song-by-song basis:
"Hold Me": Wow. Like, wow. This song started off her Joyous Lake performance, and it blew me away then. I didn't have high hopes for the recorded version to be able to do the same, since live versions are usually better in Happy's case, but this one succeeded. A very strong beginning here—it's poppy but non fluffy, with Happy hitting both ends of her vocal range with ease. The rhythm parts bring a groove that should catch the ears of many a casual listener—I hope they do the video for this song!
"Just Like Tivoli": Nondescript. Doesn't seem to go anywhere. About a minute and a half too long. But I have a feeling this one needs to be explored in more depth, and will have to be discovered over a period of time, so I'm not going to say any more about it at this early date.
"Dying": Also nondescript, nothing jumped out at me to make me remember it easily a few minutes later. Will definitely have to listen more.
"Collective Heart": Probably the most "accessible" tune Happy's ever done. I could picture Mariah Carey doing this one—but unlike "Dying" this one at least has real percussion, so I like it better after one listen. And I'm sure I'm going to be eating the Mariah Carey line real fast! :}
"Building The Colossus": One of the strongest tracks on the album, perhaps ever, though it would have been stronger with real percussion. Still, it's got a hook that just won't quit, and one of the greatest lines ever:
Mortar me here, mortar me there
:) :) :)
Gonna need stronger underwear uh-huh
to keep this spine upright
"Omar": I really like this one—mellower, though lose the drum machine, please. (i think I'm detecting a trend here :) There are bits in this one that jump out at you to surprise, and it works!
"Pride": Happy Unplugged, sort of—reminiscent of her earliest work, it's nice to see she can still wow us with just her guitar and her voice.
"You Never Told Me": A ballad! Turn down the lights, snuggle up with your honey, mmm yes.
"If I Ever See The Girl Again": This song is great. Sounds like it fell off a album from 1982, and I can't for the life of me figure out which one! :) The lyrics are the most interesting of the album, I think—
I know just where she lived, I have pictures of her in my head
"Warpaint" meets "Closer", both musically and lyrically, though musically this song just BLEEDS Yes and Gabriel....
That was many years ago, and now she's floating far below my consciousness
Well, I moved along, I moved a long way
I'm shocking the gods, I play a good game
There she goes, so pitiful, she's so stupid and man is she dull
If I ever see the girl again, I'm gonna tell her that she can be my friend
I don't know how she survived with everybody eating her alive
If I ever see the girl again, I'm gonna tell her that I will be her friend
"Down, Down": Starts off kind of like Milla's "The Alien Song (for those who listen)", then turns into vintage Equipoised Happy. This one will bear much more investigation. At 6.00 it's the longest track on the album, but it's one of those that you don't want to end. "Now like the stingray, I shall glide through salt and sea...".
"Big Dreams, Big Life": This is another "unplugged" song, with just Happy on guitar and Monica Wilson on cello. Short and sweet, introspective ("Way back then I could be afraid/ But if I want to move along, this is the bed I've made/Don't want to beat this system, it brings me Happiness"), nice rainy day song.
And now..."Glory": Starts off with what sounds like a party—Happy, Kelly Bird, and a few other women chatting in a room, then moves into a lush, rich track that leaves you at the end gasping for more. What a way to end!
In all, the album starts off with a bang, then loses it for 3 tracks, then picks itself up and gets stronger and stronger, ending in a blaze of, er, glory. :) This is possibly Happy's best yet—time will only tell where it will take her, hopefully to the recognition that's so long overdue!!!
Several years later: Unlike many, I loved Building The Colossus from the start. I haven't listened to it in a long time, though. I'm pleased to report that "Glory" and "Down, Down" still do that chills-down-the-spine thing, even after all this time. :) (email@example.com)
First impression: WOW! Second impression: WOW! Third impression: WOW! I'm simply amazed at Happy's vocal range and how these ranges differ in texture so that I'd swear I'm listening to a couple different singers. Her 'high' voice is what I wish Kate Bush sounded like...and much less screechy. And the songs themselves are excellent. Particular favorites of mine so far are: "Hold Me", "Collective Heart", "Building the Colossus", "Pride", "If I Ever See The Girl Again", and "Glory". My only qualms are a few songs seem a little to synthesized and kind of wished Jerry Marotta, who drummed for Peter Gabriel for a couple albums, to add more percussion to overlay the drum machine. I give Building The Colossus 4 out of 5 stars. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I really like Building The Colossus. My daughter was in the car this evening, and when I played "Hold Me" she was amazed at the range of Happy's voice. The title track and "Collective Heart" also made points with me.... (Greg Dunn)
After a couple of listens, which haven't been undisturbed, I have to agree that Building The Colossus is an awesome album. It reminds me of Prince's Sign o' the times in a twisted sort of way. Happy has managed to explore and expand the several styles of songwriting that she has developed in the past, and discovered the art of writing catchy hooks, and songs with a beat without compromising the quality. I still have a long way to go before I can do a song by song analysis, but already some songs stand out. 'If I ever see the girl again', 'Hold me', 'Collective Heart', 'Glory' and 'Building the colossus' (which doesn't feature the title in its lyrics much to my disappointment :)) all have the potential to become HUGE radio hits in an ideal ectopia. In my opinion the album's weakest song is 'Just like Tivoli' which reminds me of 'Temporary and Eternal'. I have skipped it in most of my listens so far. The rest is simply brilliant. I never expected to hear an electric guitar solo on a Happy Rhodes album, but Kevin and the two Davids make the electric guitar the newly found instrument with which Happy plays around in the arrangements. The use of 'metal' percussion in one song whose title escapes me now, is also a promising step. I don't expect Happy to go Einstuerzende Neubauten on us anytime soon, but the experimentation with sounds is something I was looking forward to, something I did not expect to find, and something that impressed me with this new album. Certainly, the more I listen the more I will be able to discover. HIGHLY recommended (as if there was ever a doubt). What can I say. Her most accessible, upbeat, poppy album where all her influences blend together with her own unique musical style to make a classic album. It's survived the play over 100 times rule :) (email@example.com)
New directions for the Hapster. Still strong in voice as ever. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I was really curious which direction Happy was taking with her music. I for one really like her choice. Standouts for me are "Hold Me", "Collective Heart" and "Glory", though I couldn't do without the other songs either. :) This was the second most played CD in the house, which is amazing since it came out late in the year.... :) (SANDOVAL@stsci.edu)
When I first got this album two or three months ago, I thought it was pretty darn good, but something short of brilliant. However, that feeling vanished after twenty or so listens, and I can now safely classify this album as "truly inspired." Should I really be surprised? (email@example.com)
Just doesn't do a thing for me. Her weakest effort by far, in my opinion. (dixon@physics.Berkeley.EDU)
Building The Colossus is good but not as good as her earlier works in my opinion. It's too much "easy listening" sometimes. My ranking of Happy albums is:
-> Building The Colossus.
This is a good album, but it contains some songs that I really don't like: "If I Ever See That Girl" and "Collective Heart", for instance. (Dirk.Kastens@rz.Uni-Osnabrueck.DE)
Another inconsistent record, but the high points are way up there. I love "Collective Heart" and "Down, Down", and "Omar" grabbed my ears (and wouldn't let them go) on first listen. A few other good tracks but a few not so good. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Her most accessible yet. Music to both bounce up and down and curl up with. (email@example.com)
When I first got this album I thought it might rival Warpaint for first place in my favourite Happy album. It did for a while, but now it comes maybe third, but still, it has some of the most killer Happy songs ever. "Omar" still carries me away with it every time I've loved since I first heard them. "Just Like Tivoli" won me over, too, though at first I thought it was too sweet for my taste. (Neile)
Great from start to finish. I even have learned to like "Just Like Tivoli." Now, if only I could see her live.... (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Unfortunately, Building the Colossus is not growing on me. I'm not actually very happy with the production. It seems to me her lyrics sort of cut against the grain of the arrangements. See, she's very conversational (not to mention confessional), and the layered arrangements make me feel a loss of privacy. Nonetheless, this is not intended as a bad review, just a registration of mild disappointment. It's hard for me, I guess, since my favorite albums are the first two. I do love "If I Ever See The Girl Again," "Hold Me" and "Collective Heart." And I really like most of "Building the Colossus," but I just can't get past that "gonna need stronger underwear" line. It makes me giggle, and I don't want to giggle at this song, because I like what it's saying. (I_SW@zis.ziff.com)
Happy's done it again. Having heard "Just Like Tivoli," I'm not sure I could live without it. The rest of it is great too! Building The Colossus is probably my least favorite of Happy's discs—of course, that's sort of like complaining about KaTe's Lionheart; it's still a phenomenal disc, and I wouldn't dream of giving up my copy (just thinking 'bout "Just Like Tivoli" can freak me out!).
Honestly, I'm not all that crazy about "Glory" or "Collective Heart." The songs that work best for me on Building the Colossus are "Just Like Tivoli", first and foremost, and then probably "Down, Down" and "You Never Told Me." (email@example.com)
From the first note I was captivated. I had to do a reality check because I thought I was listening to KaTe, then the voice changed and I thought I was listening to a man. I pulled out the cd booklet to check the credits and discovered that all of the vocals are by Happy and immediately thought wow! what depth. Although I've only had a chance to listen to the CD once, I cant wait to get home and give it another listen tonight. It seriously looks like I'm going to have to order all of Happy's back catalogue now. (Garry_Potter.VICROADS@vrnotes.roads.vic.gov.au)
I finally have building the colossus, and it is quite enjoyable. I enjoy The Keep more, but only because it's more "acoustic". building the colossus is still amazing, and an aural gratification. ;-> (Matt.Bittner)
On Building The Colossus, her voice is good, but the songs, at least musically, aren't very interesting, and are vaguely poppish at times. (Eric_Starker)
It has been slow to grow on me so far, but I usually find that one day I just wake up and those albums that haven't moved me are suddenly good friends.
We saw with Building The Colossus that Happy was willing to go to fairly considerable lengths to shoot for commercial success, and while I think it is one of her weaker efforts, it still has many excellent moments, so mixing commercial aspirations with her music isn't a recipe for disaster. (neal)
Building the Colossus is a stunning achievement—funky and tribal, yet folky and inspirational. (And some other accolades I'm not thinking of right now.) It's my second favorite Happy album—I think the arrangements are very rich and the guest artists are superb. There is so much depth of soul on that cd, and yet so much variety in songwriting style for revealing that soul. It's an amazing accomplishment, in my opinion.
Happy's music is truly an invasion of the body snatcher...and mind snatcher...and soul snatcher!
My fave tracks are "Tivoli", "Down, Down", and especially "Big Dreams, Big Life". The latter track is short, but oh so sadly sweet. "Glory" is another great one! That gal Happy Rhodes is a fount of gems, eh? (Violaine@juno.com)
This seems to be the most controversial, i.e. love it or...well...not love it, release. I'm still trying to warm to it, myself. You may well love it as many do, but this is a hard one to predict. (JavaHo@aol.com)
This is the album I was hooked by first. I love to sing along on songs (anyone's songs), but yesterday I just shut up and *listened* to the exquisite layering of vocals, Happy's incredible range, Kevin's gorgeous bass-playing, the heart-tugging melodies, etc. etc. etc.! How can music this familiar still sound so fresh? I guess because this is true Art. I can't wait for the world at large to find out what an incredible singer/songwriter/musician Happy is! (fleur)
Building The Colossus is definitely a pop departure for Happy. I am very fond of it. At first I really didn't care for "Dying". The verses are *very* schmaltzy and cabaret. However, the chorus ("Can't you see I'm dying?") has such a beautiful and longing quality to it that just breaks my heart.
"Big Dreams, Big Life" is not one of my favorites on the CD, but it is a beautiful and understated piece.
The one song that I have been having a hard time with is the title track. However, with repeated listens it is growing on me. There is some great guitar work from Kevin in parts of the song. I don't care for the edginess of the arrangement. I also don't care for how Happy quotes M's "Pop Music" in the song. It doesn't work too well for my taste.
I very much like "Hold Me" and "Collective Heart", although I adore the versions that are on The Keep. I prefer the simplicity of versions there.
"Just Like Tivoli" is such a beautiful piece with a memorable and haunting melody. Happy uses her high voice in such a lovely way. I really like the slow build into the song. Kevin's and Happy's atmospheric guitar playing is perfect on this track. This is one of my favorite Happy songs.
"You Never Told Me" is another achingly gorgeous song. It tugs at my heart strings. I just adore Happy's singing on this song. Kevin's solo is exactly the type of guitar playing that I love and that I aspire to in my own playing. It completely suits the mood of this song.
"Glory" is just a really cool with the languid bass playing and laid back groove. I love the way Happy uses her voice in so many unique ways with the rhythmic "ah ahs" and other vocal decorations throughout the song. Very, very creative! The ending goes into an interesting and unexpected area that I also really enjoy.
I feel that this CD can really grab you as long as you are patient with it. I believe that it requires repeated listens to appreciate it. I think most of it is really good with a few major exceptions. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Building The Colossus may be a pop departure for Happy, but I still love it. It's also one of her most fun albums to sing along with. It has its "low" points for me (among them "Dying" and "Big Dreams, Big Life"), but the remaining tracks more than make up for it. Any album that can pull off the line, "gonna need stronger underwear, uh-huh" without making me cringe has gotta be worth SOMETHING. ;-)
I agree that the chorus of "Dying" is good; but it doesn't make up for the verses, in my opinion.
"Big Dreams, Big Life" is pretty, I'll give you that. It's just a case of a decent song being totally overshadowed by stronger cuts. It comes after what is becoming my favorite Building The Colossus track ("Down, Down") and right before the also-strong "Glory," so it easily fades from memory after it's over. I feel similarly about "Pride," which is also sandwiched between two better cuts ("Omar" and "You Never Told Me"). But I do appreciate these quieter moments on Building The Colossus, because they kinda serve as the sorbet between the main dishes. Cleanses your aural palette, so to speak. ;-)
I wondered if I was the only one who noticed how Happy rips the hook from "Pop Music" for part of the title song, but unlike you, I actually like the effect. (And, actually, if you try to substitute the lines "Pop, pop, pop music, pop, pop, pop music" into Happy's "I try to build the / perfect model of-a who..." you'll realize they don't quite fit and that the musical rip isn't exact.) Still, as much as I love this song, every time I hear it I find it hard to believe it was recorded in 1994 and not ten years previously. (Patrick)
Am I the only one around here who really loves Building The Colossus? This album actually did grab me from the very first listen. How can anyone resist "Collective Heart" (Happy's warmest song ever with that groovy bass line of Kevin's in the chorus), or even the title track? Or "Down, Down"? This is great stuff! (email@example.com)
I loved "Collective Heart" from day one, and listen to it often. Happy never seemed too pleased with it, and some fans downright hated it, but I don't know why. I think it's wonderful! How can anyone resist "Collective Heart" indeed...it's about us!
The only song I ever really had any trouble with was "Hold Me" for some reason. I don't even remember why now. I didn't realize how much it was part of me until I saw Happy at the Tin Angel in Philly (May 10, 1996, 2nd show) and it was the last song of the night. Halfway through, she forgot the lyrics! Shocking enough, but then she looked directly at me for help! I yelled out "What to do, what to do now..." and she laughed and continued on, mouthing a thank you to me. To be honest, I didn't even realize I *knew* all the lyrics to the song, but I did. Luckily. Then, at the end of the song, when she sings "Can you tell me how I'm gonna make it" and the music ends, I called out "You'll make it!" and her smile at me was so full of warmth. It was great, and ever since then that song has been so close to my heart.
And besides, any album that has "Glory" on it is an absolute, instant classic. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Clear Building The Colossus favorites for me are "Just like Tivoli", "Dying" and "Collective Heart". All in all I'd say I rank Equipoise a bit higher, but this may have something to do with the sequence of getting to know the albums. I was still finding out what Happy is capable of when first listening to Equipoise; when my CD player swallowed Building The Colossus I was already expecting magic :). (email@example.com)