I am always cautious when going into a new album by a long-established artist as so many of them feel like just watered down versions of previous work that serve only as ego boost and a search for relevance in a modern musical world.
Many new albums by well established artists are laden with covers or the entire project is just them singing other people’s songs in its entirety, so it was refreshing to hear Chaka Khan release 7 brand new tracks on her 12th album “Hello Happiness”.
In 2018 the track “Like Sugar” was released and centred around a sample from The Fatback Band and their song “(Are You Ready) Do the Bus Stop”. This funky riff is the whole basis of the track and as a fan of this original song it was great to hear it given a modern and cleaner sounding update.
With that track I had high hopes for the new album which was released in February 2019 and at just 27 minutes long has been an easy album to digest. When any project is this short it needs to be all killer and no filler, and I think it just about achieves this.
There is no reinventing of the wheel here. There is a comfort zone that Khan stays in and my only issue with the album is that Khan seems to almost be a guest on her own album which is to say that her vocal whilst instantly recognizable could have been substituted for another good singer without taking away from any of the tracks.
It’s a producer led album where Khan is the sole vocalist, but I am not sure that I would buy into her being the vitally important cog on an group of songs with her name blazoned over them. The album is sold by her name of course and that’s why I wanted to hear it as it’s Chaka Khan and she is an artist I’ve previously enjoyed.
The title track “Hello Happiness” opens the album if you had enjoyed the single release of “Like Sugar” then this is going to be a perfect accompaniment to you listening enjoyment. Perhaps though it’s not as much an accompaniment but like getting a great steak and then another one being dumped on your plate. Sure, it’s the same sort of thing but when it’s good, it’s good.
“Like A Lady” continues with that funky 70’s disco vibe. This is a track I liked instantly and continue to enjoy. I love the drum programming which is rich and echoey. Khan sounds good on this track and gives her trademark wail which can sound a little rough even on such a processed and over produced album. Still this track is a winner.
“Don’t Cha Know” has more of a rock edge to the funk it ensues. It’s the weakest track on the album because there really isn’t much to it’s vocal or lyrics. It’s a messy track and the only one on the album I would consider skipping. It’s like a long interlude and a big example of how Chaka is just along for the ride.
The most forward-thinking effort on the project is the 4th track “Too Hot”. This bluesy number is the most well-rounded song out of the 7. Its production is rich and textured and Khan sounds at home on a slower atmospheric moment.
We then move onto “Like Sugar” which I find impossible not to move to every time I hear it. The use of the Fatback Band sample is what the whole track is based around but it’s so unbelievably funky that it is the real highlight of the album.
It transports you to the 1970’s disco scene in New York and would have fit perfectly in any club at that time period. The music video for this also fits the aesthetic that it is trying to create and whilst Khan’s vocal is perhaps a little over processed it is difficult to have any gripes with “Like Sugar”.
A turn to Reggae is found on “Isn’t That Enough”. I love this track and found it the most unexpected moment on the set. The production is full and the way the vocal is presented is superb.
I’ve had this album on CD in the car since its release, and it is this particular song that I have been playing the loudest. The chilled-out reggae instrumental with Khan’s echoey wailing vocal are a match made in heaven.
The final track on this short project is “Ladylike” which is a breezy acoustic guitar slower moment.
It’s a low-key moment to end the album which lyrically follows the similar theme of love and relationships. It doesn’t offer too much to get excited about and seems an odd inclusion on album which is full of funk.
All in all “Hello Happiness” is an extremely listenable album in the sense that it is so short that it just breezes on by. There are a couple of tracks that caught me instantly and the rest is all quite pleasant.
It’s one of those albums that I will play for a short period and then probably not go back to because there isn’t enough to go back and delve into. It feels like it has a short life span due to the length of album and the way the songs are presented in terms of production and arrangement.
The title track, “Too Hot” and “Like Sugar” are the strongest tracks on here but I am still unsure about the lasting effect these songs will have in say a years’ time.
It’s a reminder of the greatness of Chaka Khan and I am pleased she is still making music although in many of her interviews leading up to this release, she has been taking about the death of her friend Prince in 2016 and that she had to go back into rehab due to an addiction to prescription drugs.
If you are going to talk about such personal issues leading up to an album release I don’t think it is a stretch to think you might include some of that struggle in your music but you would never have any inclining that she has gone through anything turbulent in her life over the last few years as the music reflects nothing of her personality.
It seems like I am being over critical of this album which is not what I intended when I began writing this. I have enjoyed it and think it is well worth a listen especially for anyone into funk and soul music.