on a noisier adventure

Happy Ever After (VIA Records)
Hoi Polloi

By Robert Gruber

Raw, noisy, aggressive—until recently, these were not words easily associated with Hoi Polloi. Though always considered "alternative," past albums Hoi Polloi and Spin Me showed too much polish on the fringe. Now, with the help of new guitarist Troy Daugherty plus a producer (the Choir's Steve Hindalong) sympathetic to the ears of the body-pierced masses, Hoi Polloi has shaken off the shackle of "radio-friendliness" to become truly cutting edge.

Which is not to say that singcr/songwriter Jenny Gullen is forsaking her craft to just make noise. Her keen pop sensibilities and eye for odd detail are intact, soaring now above waves of distorted sonic turmoil.

Gullen's distinctive voice is more controlled here than on past efforts; a strong, emotive vessel that can express sadness, even despair, without one hint of trendy bitterness, as in this passage from "Falling Down": Mamma and a baby and a promise unkept

Waiting on his word and waiting on his cheque

But daddy outgrew the pedestrian pace...

And now her knight's shining armour is a tainted grey

In the trunk of a Cadillac a long way away...

Happy Ever After keeps easy company with much of the edgy new music–I hear elements of L7, Elastica and Hole (especially on "Lucy," with it's low-slung Courtney Love grunge guitar). Other songs remind me of glam-era Roxy Music ("Smile") and early Pretenders ("Big Fat Happy Day"). Producer Hindalong chucks in a few of his own flavors, like worldbeat percussion, stacked guitars and a bold drum mix, adding depth and texture. Even if MTV doesn't put 'em in the "buzz bin," Hoi Polloi is a band to buzz about—pop music gone dangerously akimbo.