For the seasoned Norwegian songwriter Thom Hell, on his new album Happy Rabbit, the story of his presentis derived from a dissection and exploration of his past. As one of the country’s most established and regarded writers and producers – a man with three Norwegian Grammys to his name – his music may have always been rooted in the sweeter side of 60s and 70s pop. However, in this latest album it is the turn of his subject matter to look over its shoulder at what has come and gone; it’s a way for Hell to stop and take stock of how his life has lead him to where he is and evaluate that, as a recording artist 8 albums in, there is a whole lot more life to look back on than most. Watch the first single here
Happy Rabbit marks itself out as both an original journey through pop history and a fresh breath of new sounds and directions within the frames of a pop melody. Hell searches for new harmonies and instrumentation in his compositions, and finds complexity to go alongside the beautiful, and sometimes naïve melodies – a result he arrives at through a playful writing process, of which he says; “Most of the songs were made instantly as played, with me, continuously, laying overdubs on bass, guitars, piano and vocals, not having a clear thought of structure or what the end product would sound like. Instead of thinking what the words should say, complete sentences were written at once, instead of single words, as you would, in a poem. This resulted in a lot of the songs getting a sort of naive expression both lyrically and musically.” It’s this – as Hell himself says – “naivety” that has begun to work its way into his process, that serves to bolster the overall impact of an album set back in a place where youth and naivety were simply default settings.
Listeners may well pick out signposts to The Beatles, Beach Boys and Elton John, but Happy Rabbit also takes a walk with the likes of Blur and The Divine Comedy, in turn sharing the inquisitive musicality of contemporary artists such as BC Camplight and John Grant. Hell has found a way to create his own musical universe, and float happily beside the greats at the same time.
The bombast of instrumental opener Grow Up, with its almighty pomp and stirring woodwind and strings, tails into 1985which shines a spotlight on the forgotten simplicity of being a child (“we would rent a movie / see it at least two times”). In fact, the trio of 1985, Blues In A and Leave Me To Die (“I was feeling so lonely without my friends”) all park themselves in nostalgia, the latter of which Mark Oliver Everett would have been proud of. Elsewhere, Hell meditates on life with a newborn son (Happy Rabbit, When I Was A Child), and takes a moment for introspection on In The Night, while on Play and The Voyage Home he explores the concept of fun.
There is a poise and elegance to all of Thom Hell’s works. Mining the troves of your past can easily result in a yearning for The Good Old Days and Simpler Times. Joyous as Happy Rabbit may be, we should all be happy to find Hell more than happy with his present.