Despite leading off a decade primarily defined by grunge, I always think of this record as a quintessentially’90s album. On February 22, 1990, electropop duo The Beloved dropped their second album, the aptly named Happiness, on the heels of its lead-off single “Hello” which had been released six weeks prior. It was much more successful in the UK (#14) than in the US (#154) but was later named as one of the best dance albums of all time.
And rightly so. The record is pure bliss, full of upbeat, uptempo, major-key confections like “Hello,” “Your Love Takes Me Higher,” and my favorite cut, “Scarlet Beautiful.” Sure, the lyrics don’t make a lot of sense, but they don’t have to when the song is so catchy. “Can you spot the difference that lies between / The color blue and the color green?” Nonsense. But the music coupled with the device of gratuitous namechecking (have Jean-Paul Sartre and Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s Little Nell ever been referenced in the same pop song before or since?) makes for an explosive dance single to open the record, and the rest of the release follows suit.
Heavily influenced by London’s acid house scene, the album is primarily a keyboard affair with some guitar littered about, all propelled forward by programmed drums and synths. The vocals are soft and sweet, no yelling or growling to disturb the vibes of Happiness. Though the album is comprised primarily of dance numbers, it offers a couple of quieter tracks as well in “Time After Time” and the closer, “Found.” The former is a reflection on interpersonal machinations within a relationship and, as such, takes a more serious tone than many of the songs, but the melody is still pretty and uplifting. And, of course, writer and vocalist Jon Marsh has found joy again by the time “Found” comes around to finish the album off.
Dance records aren’t generally built to stand the test of time, and this is no exception. I loved the album when it was released over 25 years ago, and I still enjoy individual songs when they pop up on my iPod at random, but overall the record is a little too vapid, a bit too insubstantial; it offers no heft or emotional touchstone. It isn’t a bad album, but it exists for me now as more of a time capsule, a snapshot of the moment when the new wave synth pop of the ’80s was shifting into the house and dance synth pop of the ’90s.