"Hard To Be Happy" by Jake RizzoReview
Here we go again: I keep promising to not dub any new release as "the artist's best" but once again, with the new Jake Rizzo single "Hard To Be Happy" which came out today, it's terribly tempting…. My main reason I suspect is a fear that one day, if I say something along the lines, I'm open to the artist enquiring whether I didn't think as much about their earlier work. Which is hardly the case in practice…. In any event, an artist ought to progress if they are a true talent & so perhaps I'm being a little hard on myself, which rather neatly leads to the subject of the song.
Taking up the baton passed on by The Damned with their "Just Can't Be Happy Today", Jake makes it all a lot more personal rather than railing against society in general, but essentially they are both on the same page in terms of expressing not just incoherent frustration but quite the opposite: we're talking thoughtful, rational analysis leading to feelings of regret. A lot of mental ill health leading to unhappiness & depression comes from irrational thought processes: failing to see a balanced view of the world & reacting in a non-appropriate way. However of course it is possible to perceive things objectively & still find you don't like what you see…. As we find here.
I go on in my articles about liking songs where tunes play "against" the tone of the lyrics for especial effect, but in this case, you couldn't really go far down that road without undermining the words, so a sombre tone is inevitable & appropriate, lightened as far as Jake feels he can manage & how far the song can take it. Self produced with Patch Boshell, the arrangement is actually another new departure for Jake & one which took me a few plays to focus on, given my initial connection with the words. Since the overall conclusion aims at the optimistic ("fixing" things is his target, however tricky that might be), the lightness in the song comes from the spring in the step of the predominantly electronic sound (I wonder how he's going to do this one live?) and this has been put together with a restraint one would expect from a tasteful musician but also which helps foreground the vocals. While optimism might be the signal sent out by the sounds, their rhythm however is the driver of senses of frustration & the consequent forcing of his vocals to teeter on the brink of tripping over the words as it sends him in the direction of inarticulation, which thankfully he never actually reaches.
Dedicated to "…the worriers and the over thinkers…" Jake clearly knows precisely what he's up to here & ironically in crediting him with the subtle & sensitive thought which clearly has gone into "Hard To Be Happy", one wonders how close he himself got to the tipping point of over-thought? It's a spectrum I think & while we are all on it all the time, though at different points in different circumstances & individuals may have their own point where they've gone a little bit too far. Jake writes as if he has both plenty of experience with crossing the line himself & consequent attempting to calibrate how close he is at any given moment. The song is his way of expressing empathy with others in this matter & compassion too.
Of course one might well point out that Jake has always been a most thoughtful & empathetic writer, so it feels fitting that he has been building towards an examination of thought processes themselves. I came across a great quote by Aaron Copland recently which neatly captures my unease about trying to do songs as complex as this one justice: "..if a literary man puts together two words about music, one of them will be wrong.." Now I wouldn't claim to be "a literary man" but he's right: prose is at best a very rough & inexact medium to describe music with. With "Hard To Be Happy", I'm never going to get fully there & so I'll use my usual escape line & recommend that you check it out yourself. Nevertheless, I'm certain that he speaks directly to me (and I'm not sure that was necessarily what he was aiming for earlier in his career) and so I'm comfortable to defend the assessment "Jake's best" on a personal, subjective basis if you don't mind. Though I'd like to think that you'll agree when you've heard it.