The cover artwork of this record is rather misleading. Grainy, black and white, with a woman wearing heavily-stylised make-up, it wouldn't look out of place in a Goth section of a HMV store. However, what you'd hear on the disc itself would immediately break the illusion. Lively and upbeat, Sad Happy is a delight, despite the ambiguity of its title.
It's actually two different records rolled into one; a double album comprising of Side A (Happy) and Side B (Sad), with the title track straddling the record and acting as a bridge between the two. The Happy section has been with us since January, and now Sad has joined it to complete the full experience.
'Happy' more than lives up to its name, with its upbeat, high-tempo tracks urging you to bounce and smile. 'Jacqueline', 'Be Your Drug', 'Wasted On You' and 'Call Your Name' all stand out as vibrant, electric songs, each of them vying for a spot on your upcoming summer playlists (making the January release of these songs feel like a juxtaposition in and of itself). This side felt alive; perhaps this was aided by the fact that I went for a walk to listen to it, and the warm weather and blue skies acted as perfect compliments to this side of the record. It's a set of tracks that are ready-made for the upcoming sunset barbeque parties.
With all that said, it does also harbour 'The Things We Knew Last Night', which is the weakest song on the record. It's okay, but just a little bland and stands in contrast to the more energetic tracks that surround it. It's certainly happy, but also rather plain.
Then we come to Sad. Proving that they can certainly make music for both moods, this side also includes a number of excellent songs, with 'Wake Up Call', 'Battered and Bruised' and 'Birthday Cake' all maintaining the high standard of quality. It's not nearly as downbeat as the title would make out; though the lyrical content is certainly more inclined that way, the overall feel of the songs remain quite joyful. Is this a failure to truly come across as sad? Maybe, but it still makes for a cracking listening experience.
A special mention must go to 'Train to Lime Street'. It's not even a song, but the mere act of putting a track of that title on an album that's meant to be sad is rather on the nose. In doing so, they have managed to comment on the general mood felt on public transport without needing to write a single lyric. It's a very clever way of reflecting on society in a quick, easy manner.
For that is what this record is; a commentary on our current world. The up-and-down nature of our lives is mirrored in a record that does the same, a record that is a microcosm of our daily lives. One moment we'll listen to a favourite song, the next we'll read an update on Covid-19. These mixed feelings are, in essence, reflected by the 45-minute journey we take on this album.
It's ironic, then, that the most straightforward song on this album is the title track itself. A standard, pleasant indie track with nothing much new about it, it fails to deliver on the contradictory nature of its title. There's nothing wrong with it - but perhaps that is the issue when it comes to a song whose title suggests a paradox of emotions.
Nevertheless, the album as a whole is brilliant listen throughout. Though the Sad side isn't quite as sad it tries to suggest, it still contains some great music, and at the end of the day, that's all we want really. Released just a year after What's It Like Over There?, on which the band appeared to slightly falter, the Sad Happy has put Circa Waves firmly back on track.