Music: Happiness Is ...

Our Lady Peace move past the mainstream Rock with their latest, philosophical release

Our Lady Peace

Since forming in 1993, Our Lady Peace have opened for some of the monsters (and dinosaurs) of Rock — Page/Plant, Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Alanis Morrisette and now Creed. A case of always the warm-up, never the headliner?

Maybe not; in their home country of Canada the band's third record, Happiness ... Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch, outsold Nine Inch Nails' much-anticipated The Fragile the first week out. In America it respectably debuted at No. 69 on the charts.

Musically, Happiness isn't so much a departure from the aggressive guitar-orientated Alternative Rock of their first two records as much as a purification of the sound. They back off from a dull roar frequently enough to use the quiet interludes not just for contrast, but for long stretches during songs, lending dramatic impact. It's not that far from the mainstream Rock sound of 1995's Naveed or 1997's Clumsy, but Happiness is a little groovier, a little artier and — most promisingly — optimistic without irony. Given enough time, Our Lady Peace might eventually shed their grungish trappings in favor of something truly unique. For now it's a good start.

Then again, not every band is going to revolutionize music. OLP's mix of loud guitars and angst vocals has lumped the band in with less than creative company (read: Bush, Seven Mary Three) or compared them unfavorably to some of the bigger name Grunge bands. The group members (Raine Maida, Mike Turner, Jeremy Taggart, and Duncan Coutts) recognize their limitations. To his credit, singer Maida (he's Canadian, if that explains his name) acknowledges the band's semi-original sound and their effort to overcome it.

"Before we started finishing writing the songs and going into the studio (for Happiness), we sat down and said we had to just really cocoon ourselves; completely isolate ourselves from the business, from MTV, from everything that could be evil, possibly, and influence us," he says. "Make a record that, for us, is a new beginning. This is what we've been trying to do on the first two records and we've gotten a lot closer on this one. It feels like this is finally something that is slightly original for us. There will always be comparisons (to other bands) but hopefully this will avoid a lot of them."

And even for a band that gets into deep metaphors and slightly New Age spiritualisms, the title of the record suggests a group that is taking themselves way too seriously. This is Rock & Roll afterall, not self-help affirmation. There are few bands that can pull earnestness off but the underlying hopefulness of Happiness is delivered not as preaching, but on a smaller, more personal level. "Is Anybody Home?" blusters under booming drums and tweeting synthesizers, but sucks it all in for the chorus where Maida is alone with plucked, single notes from Turner's guitar. The song briefly drops to the level of one person before exploding again. It's a simple gesture, reversing the Grunge song structure of quiet verse/loud chorus, but it also inverts the hopelessness as well.

"It's more analytical than just being dark for the sake of being dark," he says. "It's like, 10 years ago, I had the Faces Of Death video and that was a very erotic or stimulating video to watch because you couldn't see that stuff anywhere. That kind of stuff is basically on ABC now, every Friday at 9 o'clock or whatever. It feels like we're getting close to the end. After you get bored with watching someone die, basically live on television, what's next? So in dealing with that, you kind of juxtapose that with death — and that's the record. It kind of flirts between those things. There's a lot of compassion involved in all the songs as well; reaching out to someone who's feeling stressed by all that kind of imagery and that kind of hopelessness. But (the first single) 'One Man Army' is definitely about being an individual and having the courage and possible fearlessness to stand up for yourself and not just be a follower: Find your own happiness and find things that have substance."

Ah, yes happiness. The unwieldy album title comes from a line in the song, "Happiness & the Fish."

"In context of the song it's pretty easy to figure out, but taken away from the song it might tend to be a little proverbial and it might be something as simple as a fortune cookie. It is something that relates directly to the song, 'Is Anybody Home?' about someone depressed or basically bored with life and bored with the sameness that comes from the media and you're just kind of inundated with images — the search for beauty and youth and ... fucking wrestling. Everything is so quick and there's nothing of substance and it seems like that search for happiness might take a little bit of work and courage."

OUR LADY PEACE plays Firstar Center with Creed on Sunday.

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