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Album Review: Blue October – ‘I Hope You’re Happy’

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“I hope you’re happy” is usually a snarky, slap-in-the-face retort, but for Texas band Blue October, it’s a genuine well wishing, and a genuinely fresh outlook.  An outlook that for many years, has been dark, dismal, and yes — pure rock. The 2018 release of I Hope You’re Happy, via Up/Down Records, and leadsinger Justin Furstenfeld’s label, Brando Records, is out Aug.17. Sobriety sounds good on the often tumultuous Blue October soundscapes, although — it is a stark contrast to what many fans may be used to. Furstenfeld doesn’t label Blue October to be a rock outfit, and this genre-blending release is a perfect example of that.

“I don’t even consider us a rock band in the first place,” Justin Furstenfeld said. “This record has no genre,” he said of the ‘art rock’ inspired release. Regardless of how you’d describe the song, track-by-track, it varies from spooky rock, 80s synth, indie alternative, etc., it never sways from a positive message. A message of well wishes, because after all, life is far too short to be angry any longer.

The first track “Daylight” had an eery, Tim Burton kind of vibe, which served as a good buildup for the record. The third of twelve tracks, “Come Back Home” reminds me of Blue October’s popular radio hits — like the 2005 song, “Into the Ocean.” It’s the standout track in the beginning of the record, the one that pulled me in for the long haul — it’s got the upbeat backing track, a little violin for good measure, but a breakdown mid-way through, with more of a dance-track feel. It’s still classic Blue October, but polished, relevant and modern.

That familiar phrase — “I’ll do me, and you do you” was always one that annoyed me. For the longest time, it didn’t matter who(m) said it, I still hated it. Leave it to Blue October to not only make me come around to the phrase’s validity, but also the use of it in a song — and a title. The strongest track on the record is the title track, “I Hope You’re Happy,” which utilizes another oversaid, overrated phrase as its subject matter.

How many times have you told someone, “I hope you’re happy?” How many times have you meant it? The answers probably vary greatly. Given decades of personal ups and downs, it certainly would be easier to get jaded, cynical, and pessimistic. It’s a wonder Blue October could deliver a phrase like this, and fully mean it. But they do. And for fans, it feels like a full-circle moment. Perhaps fatherhood is treating Furstenfeld well, perhaps sobriety sounds better. It’s a proud moment,maybe one we’ll see more of in a soon-to-be-released documentary of the band. Justin’s gravely vocals sound familiar, this time around, with an ’80s poppy beat that is new to listeners familiar with “Hate Me” or “Calling You.”

There will be days when you’re falling down/ There will be days when you’re inside out/ There will be days when you’re falling apart/ Someone else will break your heart/ I never wanna hold you back/ I’m always gonna have your back

At the end of the day — isn’t that all you want out of life? To have someone who has your back, no matter what — no matter if your relationship with them has changed, no matter the darkness you’ve seen or felt?

The next track, “Colors Collide” brings out the F-bomb casually in the opening lyrics, an ode to the ‘harder’ Blue October we’ve become accustomed to. The distorted vocals sound distant, and the track seems like one of the more angry tracks. It’s got a Metallica feel to it.

The piano in “Remission in Cmaj” sounds super similar to Ben E. King & the Drifters’ “This Magic Moment.” It’s an influence I wouldn’t have pegged, and of course, with music, it could be totally unintentional. It’s a beautiful instrumental track — that sort of inspires a new outlook, and foreshadows a growing brightness on the rest of the record.

“King” is another one of those heart-on-sleeve, no shame songs.  I feel like a King/Holding you close/I’ll love you like I won’t let go.

I can picture it being in some cheesy Nicholas Sparks movie, in those classic ‘running in a field, playing coy’ scenes — the ones that are so sickeningly sweet you almost turn it off, but the soundtrack is pretty damn perfect so you keep watching. This song would make me a believer. It just did.

“Let Forever Mean Forever” continues on the falling-in-love rather than falling-off-the-train wagon. A few years ago, Justin performed Blue October solo acoustic, and I can picture this song going over well with a crowd. Of course, it’s an intimate look behind a vulnerable heart, and in a small setting, would make for a magical music delivery.

The final track on the record, “Further Dive (The House That Dylan Built)” comes in at over nine minutes long. Midway through, it’s got a lovely swelling of strings, evoking an old Disney classic movie, or fairy tale. Perhaps all of the dark, twisted Grimms’ fairy tales and fables were worth it for Blue October, if they could finally have a happy-ever-after like this. After all, they hope you’re happy — it’s only fair we wish them well too.

 

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah's a little bit of a rock 'n' roll rebel, almost always at a concert. She loves to soak up the scene, immersed in the music journalism world, still buys CDs and rents music documentaries from the library. Just don't call her a hipster. She's never been that stylish.

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