These days it seems the only challenge left for the man who never stops moving is to move even faster.
It’s been a manic few months for Joel Plaskett, and anybody who’s been following along already knows the reason why. Out of the doldrums of another long Canadian winter, Joel and The Emergency (Dave Marsh and Chris Pennell) have been working round the clock, sending weekly volleys to fight off the seasonal blues: a brand new song – recorded, mixed, mastered, and released – every single week for the past ten weeks, accompanied by snippets of video documenting the process in-studio. It has been an epic undertaking, which now comes together in the physical release of Scrappy Happiness on cd and vinyl.
Not that Plaskett is any stranger to monumental endeavors: his last trip into the studio yielded the triple triumph, Three, for which he received a Juno Award and a Polaris Prize nomination. But the musical distance between these two records shows that Joel is still a long way from resting on his laurels. Whereas Three was luxuriously meditative, and holistic in its conception, Scrappy Happiness laid its rails one quick mile at a time, and the entire record reverberates with the restless energy that fuelled its production. Scrappy? At times, yes, but more than that it is spontaneous – a rich tribute to the days when a new song on the radio was, well, new.
There are a handful of gorgeous tunes that call to mind the folk inflections of Three, while hewing to the lean, stripped-down production that mark this distinctive record as a whole (the breezy lilt of “Harbour Boys” and the standout “I’m Yours”). But Plaskett’s winking references to his beloved Cactus and Husker Du albums suggest that his riffing chops are as strong as ever. The Emergency provide the muscle for gritty guitar numbers like “Lightning Bolt” and “Time Flies" and they evidently haven’t lost an ounce of love for the kind of melodic rock that inspires tunes like “Somewhere Else” and “Tough Love,” tracks that echo back to their earlier records, Down at the Khyber and Truthfully, Truthfully.
Scrappy Happiness is an eclectic display of Plaskett’s continued songwriting prowess and playful lyricism. While many of the songs tap bittersweet emotions hidden in the fuzzy details of the past, it is the present where this record resides. Time's flying, so let's fly with it. Music – the sheer jubilant redemptive promise of music: on the radio, in the car, in the kitchen or from the stage – occupies a prominent place in these songs and one can hear the joy the group took in their creation.
All of this is to say that Scrappy Happiness is a risk taken for its own sake. It is a fascinating experiment, which pays homage to an older mode of record production while forging ahead to new ways of engaging listeners.
But none of this would matter if it weren’t also, in the end, another compelling record from one of Canada’s leading musical voices.