Noel Mengel of Music Trust reviews ROADHOUSE - Oct 30, 2022
Updated: Jun 2
“Is it a picture or is it a mirror? Roadhouse is both. But most of all, it’s great fun.”
Great music often paints pictures as strongly as anything you will find in a gallery, and the music that Australian band The Double Happiness delivers is vivid indeed.
This quartet always had a strong sense of aesthetic: that the way a band presents itself is a vital ingredient in the story of their music.
With some bands it might not matter that you only hear their recording on a stream, enjoyed and quickly forgotten. That’s not so with The Double Happiness. They put as much care into cover art as into the music. This is music that feels good to be around, to have the album art in your hands as you play, heightening the connection, unlocking your own stories.
The music is intensely visual – it takes you on a trip, deep into the landscape, into emotions you might have neglected. It lingers with you long after the fact of listening to the album.
Anecdote: I am driving along a suburban road infrequently travelled yet somehow familiar, and the music of The Double Happiness is playing, not on the car stereo but in my head.
Researchers will tell you that narrative, your sense of the story, is right at the heart of the how and why behind our memories. Something in that song in my head, Drive In, a story about childhood trips to the double feature movies at the drive in, unlocked a personal memory.
I knew this road. I was a child in the back seat, my parents in the front. Almost everything was now changed: the road not two lanes but four and crawling with traffic, the once open fields now an industrial estate, my parents long gone yet also still present, their voices, their faces.
Our lives are made up of small moments, mostly. Driving that road, that day, that feeling, I was reminded: everything matters. Every second, every dry gully, every flash of inspiration.
That’s how I respond to the music of The Double Happiness, and maybe that is why their music has had such an impact on others too, because it works on so many different levels.
They draw on references most of us recognise – a blast of surf guitar, some bold mariachi brass, a ’60s pop classic on the car radio – and craft a sound that is strongly their own. Is it a picture or is it a mirror? Roadhouse is both.
But most of all it is great fun, music you can dance to, melodies that stick with you in every vocal part and guitar line.
Like the music, The Double Happiness name works on several levels but refers to the founders, partners both in music and life Peter and Kristin and Simon and Meg. The album is dedicated to Meg, who died from cancer in February.
The album opens in unexpected fashion with Red Room, a noir-ish Hollywood spoken-word story, with suitably soundtrack-inspired guitar.
The intent to build on the reverb-heavy surf sound of previous album Surfgazing is clear on Smoking Gun. A Morricone-eque brass line sits with Tex-Mex acoustic guitar and Peter’s vocal rumble contrasts with the voice of Kristin, a tip of the hat to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s timeless pop-operas.
Warrego hurtles along like a late-night drive into the interior and Dingo takes the surf-guitar sound into the desert. Find Your Feet and Ride Alone also venture far from the pleasures of the beach with stories of solitude and yearning. And there is the joy of a jangling pop song in Drive In.
I have written often here of bands and songwriters who find fresh perspectives in Australian landscapes, from Kev Carmody to The Aerial Maps. Here is another angle on that, one that draws on pop culture touchstones to make the personal feel universal.
There is a long, long drive ahead. But never a lonely one when you’ve got these songs for company.
Reviewed by: Noel Mengel