Meg and Dia Reunite For Sublime ‘Happysad’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

There’s something pleasantly cliche about a rock band reuniting after a solo album. It isn’t simply a matter of anticipation, but the hope that an old favorite, long resigned to a distant memory of what was, might be here to stay.

The broad label ‘rock’ is being applied here, due to the fact that Meg and Dia’s discography shrugs off any notions of a sub-genre being applied to them for long. The Frampton sisters began their career as a duo in 2005 before adding longtime bandmates, guitarist Carlo Jiminez, bassist John Snyder, and drummer Nick Price for their debut album Something Real (Doghouse Records, 2006). The album balanced out heavy guitar riffs with quiet ballads and led the group to worldwide tour appearances. In 2009 they signed with Warner Bros for their followup release Here, Here, and Here, a more upbeat, pop-punk influenced effort, before being dropped by the label and self-releasing what would be their final album of the era, titled Cocoon, in 2011.

A good deal of comeback albums follow forgettable ones, yet Cocoon was anything but. In fact, it was probably the most grounded of all their efforts thus far, taking their lyrical bent and applying it to music which was much less bombastic. It felt like they had finally found their place, yet it signaled the end for the band.

Meg went on to become a business owner; crafting collectible robot-themed jewelry as well as opening a successful Salt Lake City coffee shop. Dia recorded two solo albums under her own name, with the first contributing in part to the group’s demise. The most recent, 2017’s Bruises (Nettwerk), was a darker, more mature offering, combining strings with pop and rock influences. The album, a hard-fought victory, was a bit hollow in one respect. “I wasn’t happy playing alone,” Dia lamented. “I put Bruises out and it wasn’t hitting home with me…I was just really lonely in creating art because we’d done it for so many years together.”

Much in the same way it caused them to drift apart, music brought the Frampton sisters back together, who had both been yearning for a return to the stage and studio. That reconciliation has yielded Happysad, their first collaboration in eight years. 

From start to finish, Happysad is wrapped in glossy harmonies and unsubtle effects. It maintains a consistent tone throughout, combining Meg and Dia’s honest songwriting with a thoroughly modern sound. The result is an album which distinguishes itself within its genre not by instrumental prowess, but through lyrical depth. Carlo Jiminez rejoins the band for a couple of tracks (“American Spirit,” and the retrospective “Teenagers”) but quite often his contributions at guitar, as well as those of Meg Frampton, are overshadowed by synthesizers and computer programming. The exception to this is the second-act song “Distraction,” which has her laying down a groove through what is probably the closest melding of old and new sounds the group produces here.

 Speaking of Meg Frampton, she spends more time at the microphone than during their previous iteration. Songs such as “Lit Match” and “Better at Being Young” see both artists’ voices weaving together in more adventurous ways. Besides being an intimate recollection of heartbreak, the aforementioned “Lit Match” showcases Dia digging into deeper registers of her voice than the singer dared to in her early twenties. She effortlessly changes from husky crooning to high-pitched harmonizing during the chorus.

 Perhaps reflecting a more optimistic change in the sisters’ outlook on romance, “Koala” offers a bruising picture of a young woman’s nightly struggles with her inner demons, and a man’s unflinching insistence upon supporting her through them. As one of the album’s clear high points, it is this sort of visceral writing which elevates these two above many of their contemporaries.

 At a modest ten tracks, Happysad sticks around long enough without outwearing its welcome. Upbeat songs such as “Warm Blood” and “Happy” reveal a sense of contentment in life that might be replacing the angst of the group’s younger years, while the retro-sounding “Better at Being Young,” as well as “Boys Can Cry” rely more on cynicism. The latter song is an example of how the synth work on this release is often used to excellent effect during the chorus, but in this particular instance does little musically to distinguish the rest of the song from any other. Instead, the beat laid down serves simply to bridge one chorus to another.

Which is probably what makes it such an interesting choice to end the album with “Dear Heart,” a nearly acoustic throwback to the band’s previous effort. At any other placement, the song would contrast starkly with the rest of Happysad, but by way of a curtain call, it works. With lines like “You’re beautiful with all your scars and cuts, and I hope that someday someone sees how much,” the duet comes across as a frank telling of how bittersweet the memory of love can become with the passage of time. While the infectious rhythm of the previous nine tracks proved that Meg and Dia can deliver memorable melodies and relatable lyrics within the context of any music, it’s this song in particular where they seem most comfortable. “Dear Heart” makes a swaying case that these two women may be best suited as world-weary troubadours, simply singing to the sound of a folksy guitar.

Happysad shares its greatest strength with the rest of Meg and Dia’s discography – an open vulnerability, in both songwriting and singing. The album feels like the beginning of act two for the band, leaving listeners yearning to hear what comes next, and hoping it won’t be another eight years until they find out.

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