Within the world of radio-rock, Blue October stand as an anomaly, not needlessly sludgy and tuneless enough to fit in with most of post-grunge, yet too comprehensive and – for lack of a better term – experimental to gel with most indie-rock. And even if their commercial heyday might be long behind them (it’s been over a decade since Foiled was released, after all), it’s to their credit that they’ve regularly refused to truncate their sound for greater appeal, instead relying on a gleaming, occasionally overdone production style and Justin Furstenfeld’s frankly startling ear for detail and emotional power to become a serious cult act in their own right. And sure, their penchant for consistently pushing their albums as close to the hour mark as possible has led to a lot of their material feeling way more bloated than it should – especially in recent times – but at their core, Blue October are the sort of alt-rock band that it’s incredibly easy to respect.
What’s more, even if their albums aren’t exactly prone to mixing things up, Blue October have often found a way to remain compelling despite their myriad of shortcomings, and I Hope You’re Happy is really no different. For an album that utterly fails to hide how bloated, sentimental and overly-polished it is, Blue October have such a knack for eking out every drop of potential and emotion of their sound, to the point where any real issues are more or less sidelined for a greatly fulfilling listen. Well, it is discounting the clattering, Imagine Dragons-style false start of Daylight; after that, Furstenfeld’s ruminations on love and loss hit all the poignant beats they always have, as he reaches an understanding of the toxicity from both his partner (Your Love Is Like A Car Crash) and himself (I Want To Come Back Home), ending amicably on the title track, but allow the begrudging undertones to resurface for the rest of the album. It’s not exactly the most creative through line (and could become rather insufferable in the wrong hands), but with Furstenfeld’s grasp on heart-wrenching melodrama on tracks like King or the gorgeous closer Further Dive (The House That Dylan Built), there’s a delicacy at work that elevates these tracks to much more than the sum of their parts.
And again, the featherweight instrumentation and faultless production will undoubtedly be off-putting for plenty, and when the stiffer programmed drums and fluttering electronics come in, it can be easy to see why. That’s really all part of the appeal to a degree though, as Blue October’s songs feel crafted around a sense of melancholy that the keys and strings bring out to a much greater degree. There’s an incredibly willowy quality to Furstenfeld’s vocals already, but with the gentle liquid thrum of Your Love Is Like A Car Crash and How To Dance In Time, or the beautiful clarity of Further Dive (The House That Dylan Built), there’s a lot more consideration and deft craft than typical radio rock fare. Even in the odd moments of force like the percussive, almost industrial grind of Colors Collide, it’s hardly falling into derivative territory, especially given the melting-pot of simpering piano-rock that Blue October ultimately integrate with.
Of course, they’re easily able to differentiate themselves for that with far better writing and greater ambition, and I Hope You’re Happy is an ideal example of that. It most definitely won’t appeal to everyone, but compared to how bland and colourless so much of this straight-laced radio-rock is, to have a band continue to inject a bit more detail and intrigue is at least good to have around. And Blue October continue to prove they can do just that, and do with a considerable amount of emotional pull at that.
For fans of: The Fray, Goo Goo Dolls, Sick Puppies
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘I Hope You’re Happy’ by Blue October is our now on Up/Down-Brando Records.