Funk that Mom might like
You’ve probably heard of the term “dad-rock,” whose origin was describing “rock music that dad would like,” such as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. You might have even heard of “mom-rock,” like Fleetwood Mac, thrown around as a meme. Well, Hello Happiness is mom-funk.
Chaka Khan had her heyday in the ’70s and ’80s. Up until 1978, she fronted the funk band Rufus and then became a disco-pop queen a la Donna Summer. With her melismatic vocal style, Khan was in many ways a precursor to torch balladeers like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.
After ten years since Khan’s last studio album, she teams up with Switch of Major Lazer fame on production to release Hello Happiness, a decidedly nostalgic dance-funk album. The music is laced with crystalized keyboards, nimble bass and vocals echoing out into oblivion. There are also plenty of space-age synth flourishes climbing up and down the scale. While the music is quite nostalgic, there is a modern clarity to the production. Also, the melding of multi-tracked and sampled vocals and beats feels like something Major Lazer would have released several years ago. Despite Khan’s age, her singing remains on point since her voice has always had a bit of a husky timbre.
Overall, the album is admirable for its cohesiveness. Most of the tracks leave a lot of empty space in the mix, making the album feel very frigid and deserted, perfect for winter. The only oddball is the closer, which sounds like the thawing of winter into spring.
Even with Khan’s experience and skills, there are problems with the album. First, the music feels dated like the days before smartphones felt simple. Not only that, but Chaka Khan’s melismatic vocals are dated as well. She does vocal acrobatics with a show of effort that contemporary artists would never do for fear of sounding unpolished or amateurish. Whether or not melisma is a good thing is up to the individual listener to decide. Second, the music does not convey emotion well. The title track “Hello Happiness” is a spacey start to the record, and it feels distant and lifeless. The rest of the album pulls out more interesting beats and vocals but remains emotionally impotent.
While Hello Happiness is far from satisfying, there are a handful of enjoyable tracks. “Don’t Cha Know” has a raunchy guitar lead and a synth flourish that sounds like Mario collecting a coin on Saturn’s rings. Khan’s raspy vocals are allowed to shine on “Too Hot,” the album’s most compelling track which features weird vocal samples and hypnotic, cycling production. The atmosphere is like sitting in a Native American drum circle: everyone is dancing around a fire at midnight, and bodies are half lit by fire and half shrouded in shadow.
Out of all the tracks, Mom’s favorite would probably be the closer, “Ladylike,” which features a sweetly strummed guitar and the softest production of the album. Other tracks like “Like Sugar” and “Isn’t That Enough” are fine, but do not excel beyond standard funk.
Hello Happiness is clean and tame dance music. The production style is heartily 2010s, but the album resonates most with ’70s nostalgia. In the end, Mom can enjoy it for the belting vocals and relatively easy-going production.