Tom Tikka and the Missing Hubcaps’ new release This is My Happy Face is Tikka’s third release under this specific moniker. The previous releases, 2020’s Working Class Voodoo and its January 2021 successor That’s What Winston Churchill Said, enjoyed considerable commercial success with tracks placing high on iTunes and US Mediabase Activator charts and there’s ample reason to expect this full-length release will prove equally if not more successful.
His musical journey began at age six when he heard Paul Anka sing “Lonely Boy” while riding in his father’s Chevrolet. Tikka started composing his first songs soon after. His later tenure with the band Carmen Gray produced three albums, one EP, and a trio of radio hits. Tikka penned the band’s songs with co-author and brother Lappe Holopainen.
This Is My Happy Face is, in essence, a concept album. Tikka’s primary inspiration for the release came from a documentary on psychic mediums but he soon broadened his songwriting ideas into an examination of the final few seconds of life people experience before death arrives. It isn’t breezy fare. “Bullet in the Head” opens the collection with a suicide and the musical arrangement is ideal for such subject matter. Dissonance abounds as uneasy musical textures shift and transform over the four minutes and change cut; listeners, both newcomers and longtime fans, will be impressed by his artistic control. “Bullet in the Head” brims with menace without ever veering out of its lane.
“Heart’s On Fire” is a hard-hitting uptempo rock track. It’s also the lead-off single for this release and it’s clear why. The pace is well-suited for a rock tune aimed at radio play, but it’s the dynamics of the track that will garner it more attention. Tikka does an exceptional job balancing the cut between an authoritative backbeat and stripped-back verses with appropriate vocals for each. It’s an ear-catching choice for the album’s first single.
The album’s fourth track “Doormat” operates within a long-standing songwriting tradition. There are many examples through popular music history of the “kiss off” song, a songwriter casting an unsuitable former romantic partner into outer darkness, and this track belongs in their company. Tikka writes with venomous economy and the rugged instrumentation matches the lyrical mood. The light double-tracking of the vocals continues during “Sweet Jesus!” with the same positive impact. Tikka has a strong voice, without a doubt, but doubling his vocals further reinforces his presence.
This Is My Happy Face’s title song is cut from the same confident cloth as many of the earlier songs. Some listeners may fault the overall quality of the release for the similar path his songwriting takes from track to track but there’s no questioning the collection’s consistency. The title track is a substantive statement, as such songs normally are, mixing the album’s familiar ingredients of jagged guitar, keyboards, drums, bass, and vocals.
Tom Tikka can call his projects whatever he likes, his personality will shine through. The sense of identity pervading these tracks is stronger than typical rock efforts circa 2021 and defines his past work. It’s a hard thing to find nowadays. We live in an era when artists and/or performers often embrace the lowest common denominator to win public favor, but there’s nothing like that in Tom Tikka’s work. His latest album with the Missing Hubcaps, This Is My Happy Face, takes on audacious and challenging themes while entertaining from beginning to end.
by Jennfer Munoz