HAPPY THE MAN – The Muse Awakens

HAPPY THE MAN - The Muse Awakens


Release date: October 25, 2004

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The story of Progressive Rock band Happy The Man (HTM) is possibly a story of divine intervention, in both good and bad ways. From their enthusiastic genesis in Germany in 1972, until their unfortunate ending in 1979, the band went trough a number of line up changes, as well as a major stylistic change when the intended singer left the band and none of the other band members felt fit to step up to the microphone. In addition to this, it took HTM quite some time to get signed (to Arista, 1976) and the record company demand for more song orientated (i.e., commercial) material must have been a true pain in the neck for the American quintet. With the interest for Progressive Rock at an all time low, a devoted drummer leaving the band, and Arista dropping the contract, HTM found themselves obliterated and obsolete in 1979. The outcome of these 7 years was two albums, Happy the Man (1977) and Crafty Hands (1978).

Nothing much happened for the next 20 years, but when guitarist Stanley Whitaker played at a Mexican Progressive Rock Festival in the late 1990s, a rumor surfaced that the band was getting back together. When exposed to this rumor by devoted fans, Whitaker felt inspired to make a new reunion attempt (after the one that failed in the early 1990s). This apparently woke the band’s muse, and now, 26 years after their last official release, the album The Muse Awakens spins on the digital turntable.

The reunion of HTM brings 3 of the original band members back on stage together, namely Frank Wyatt (saxes & keyboards), Stanley Whitaker (guitars & vocals) and Rick Kennell (bass). To complete the line up is David Rosenthal (keyboards) and Joe Bergamini (drums)… and what a band!

The individual instrumental abilities are simply brilliant, without being vulgar or showing off. The collective performances are solid too, bearing witness to very strict compositions and arrangements. Expectedly, these guys will rule live, too. In the 70s, they were known to play their songs exactly as on the records, down to the very last note and even down to the solos: no room for improvisation! This is more a proof of how well arranged their songs were, rather than a lack of improvisation skills.

Style-wise, The Muse Awakens picks up pretty much where they left off. The odd numbered meters are the same. The complex rhythmical syncopation are the same. The simple, yet beautiful, melodies are the same. The kind of dreamy, nearly meditative feeling is also there. Just like before, the vocals are minimal: out of 11 tracks, just one has lyrics. Surely a fan will nod his head with a smile on their face when listening to this CD.

The compositions are quite diverse, making the album worth listening to for the near 60 minutes it lasts. Nevertheless, it tends to be a little too polished (not overproduced, just a little fatigued) or smooth, if you like. Opening track “Contemporary Insanity,” “Lunch at the Psychedelicatessen,” “Barking Spiders,” and closing track “Il Quinto Mare” are all honest exceptions from this. Also, the vocal track, “Shadowlites,” helps in lifting the album out of something, which on a bad day, easily could have been a “New Age meets Easy Listening” album, with all due respect, of course. Below this superficial observation lies the discovery of, or journey to, a mesmerizing underworld of musical labyrinths, through which you are safely guided by their steady hands and excellent sense of beautiful melody. A reward to all who dare to follow.

Undoubtedly, the band would benefit commercially from a more vocal approach. But since Whitaker reveals a remarkably good voice, it’s a bit hard to see why the band wouldn’t be tempted to pursue this from a purely artistic or musical perspective, too. Some of the tracks actually sound like intros, inviting at least a few words to be uttered. Still, the songs end in silence and one is left with a feeling of something not being fulfilled.

The album’s biggest asset is the relaxing mood this album puts you in. This would possibly also be its biggest weakness. A fan is bound to love this album. Less likely to love it is a Metal fan. Still, it’s an album worth listening to as it takes you out of this world and through a universe more amazing and inspiring than any science fiction universe. Even better: they have promised that it won’t take another 25 years for their next album…


  • Frode Leirvik

    Frode was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of Norway. His headbanging experience started when his brother-in-law gave him Deep Purple’s Fireball at the age of ten. Since then, he has also been a fan of and active in several other musical genres, resulting in a deep and profound interest in music. Some of his favorites, among all of those who have somehow managed to tap into the universal force of Progressive Music are (in no particular order): Thule, Dream Theater, King Crimson,Pink Floyd, Rush, Spock’s Beard, Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman, Ekseption, Focus, The Beatles, Deep Purple and Frank Zappa.

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