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Happy Rhodes—Warpaint

Release info:

1991—Aural Gratification—AGCD0017 [CD] AGC 0017 [cassette]


See Auntie Social Music—Happy Rhodes' Official website for current availability

Ecto priority:


Group members:

Happy Rhodes—vocals, keyboards, percussion

Guest artists:

Kevin Bartlett—keyboards, percussion, guitars, and additional heavy breathing
Bob Van Detta—bass
Mitch Elrod—additional vocals
Martha Waterman—keyboards
Elizabeth Jones—violin

Produced by:

Kevin Bartlett and Happy Rhodes


Perhaps the best intro album, just all-round great: Great songs, lyrics, instrumentation.... The only thing you might miss is Happy's high voice, which she uses only sparingly on this album. (

Favourite songs: "Feed the fire", "To live in your world", "Lay me down", "Words weren't made for cowards", "Warpaint". Happy's most political and most coherent album to date. I am surprised at how important this album is to me. For the first time percussion begins to play a role in her songwriting, and the rhythms really take over some songs. Her voice is low and commanding here. BRILLIANT! (

My favorite song here, "Words Weren't Made For Cowards", seems to be the first among equals; I also appear to feel a certain affinity for "Murder" (love that exotic percussion, especially at the beginning), "Terra Incognita" (I think we all decided it was about a very lively cat, so it too feeds directly into my own recent experience), "All Things" (easier listening than some of the other tunes), and "To Live In Your World" (chalk up one more for explicit liberalism).
     A recent newspaper story on the latest cohort of supermodels reported that the "waif" look is becoming trendier than the "amazon" look of a few years earlier. Warpaint, to me is a benchmark in the opposite direction—the album in which Happy the amazon really begins to predominate musically over Happy the waif. I consider this the ideal introduction to Happy for the newbie.
     The stylistic evocation of Weill and Brecht in "Words" and "Lay Me Down," and the flowering of Happy's approach to explicit sociopolitical commentary. (

Warpaint is the album that really introduced Happy Rhodes to the public, and it can certainly be called her most accessible album to date. Her inner demons are no longer the prime subject of her work, and at times she even waxes political. She tends to stay within the lower half of her four-octave range here, though not exclusively, and the musical arrangements are lusher and more layered than in her previous four efforts. Not undeservedly, this album garnered comparisons to Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush, but Rhodes definitely stands in a class by herself. (

It was tough to pick out which album of Happy's I would rate the highest, and half of the decisive reasoning hinged on the fact that this was my first Happy album. The other factor involves the sheer cohesiveness and musicianship of the album: it's unified and polished without sounding slick.
  Each song seems an integral piece of the album, and the lyrics are thoughtful and wiser than ever. "Feed The Fire"[1] sounds SO good in the dark with only a candle for light. Ditto for the entire album, actually, especially "Phobos", simultaneously about my beloved astronomical objects and about fear (n'est-ce pas?). "Wrong Century"[1] is another of my favorites, which is splendid and powerful. "Lay Me Down" is brilliant and sparkling. "In Hiding"[1] is gorgeous and the sweetest outro. I could gush about every song, but why waste bandwidth when I could just say that I worship Warpaint? (

Definitely one of my favorites. This album is different from the first four in that it is a bit more worldly. We get to look through Happy's eyes as opposed to wandering around in her brain. Her accompaniments are fuller on all songs for the first time adding percussion and lots of effects. (

the second album of happy's i ever heard (the first was rhodes i) and, in my opinion, her masterpiece (so far). the first four may be more heartfelt lyrically, but warpaint combines that with stunning arrangements. sometimes i hit myself for thinking that this was overproduced the first time i heard it. feh. (

I heard Happy Rhodes for the first time recently. A friend gave me the first 5 songs from Warpaint. I like it! She sounds a lot like Annie Lennox (Eurythmics), by the way, but I like her voice better than Annie's. I LOVE the second song on Warpaint. (

I can't believe how well this album has worn on me—I can't think of an equivalent in all my collection. I've been listeningWarpaint steadily since I first picked up this album in January or February of 1992 and every time I hear it, it delights me. It's rich without being cloying. It rewards close attention yet isn't in your face with its cleverness. Since this was the first Happy album I heard, for me it's the Happy Rhodes album. It epitomizes everything I like best about her music—the richness and variety of her voice and its expressiveness, the maturity of her vision and lyrics, and her inventive songwriting and its ability to create moods. An album that is a continuing revelation to me. "Words Weren't Made For Cowards" is probably my favourite Happy song, and is one of the best songs ever. (Neile)

I remember the shock of hearing Warpaint for the first time, after so many months of listening to the 1st 4 albums, which mostly use her upper range. But her low range is wonderful (as I already knew from "Crystal Orbs," "Beat it Out," and others), and the songwriting on Warpaint is so strong ("Words Weren't Made for Cowards" is amongst my favorite songs), that it was hard not to fall in love with it. I still get shivers listening to "Words Weren't Made for Cowards." And "Warpaint." And.... (

Warpaint is probably one of the more globally accessible releases, but it is more of a full-instrumentation arrangement release. (

just bought Warpaint and as a singer, still obsessing and amazing over the woman with "two voices"..this warm low and this exact Kate high...truly over the top. (

I've been absorbing Warpaint slowly since a month or so ago when I first heard it. At first, I must admit, I was disappointed by it, because I'd assumed with it being Happy's first wide release, it would boast more of the hooks present on future albums like Equipoise and Building The Colossus. But I should've known, given Happy's track record with me, that initial disappointment was an indication of an album that would reveal its magnificence over a period of time. This is a largely quiet, very subtle, and very excellent piece of work.
     Firstly, I must comment on the album cover. It's extremely simple and understated (especially when compared to previous covers and even the ones that followed, with the exception of Rhodesongs). Happy is not conventionally beautiful by the usual standards, but I find her face to be very striking and attractive, and the photo on the cover highlights that fact. I also like the way her gesture illustrates the album title.
     Overall, Warpaint benefits from an obviously heightened budget, more thorough and thoughtful production and arrangements, and the fact that Happy for the first time obviously set out to record an "album," rather than a compilation of songs like her previous four releases. This mind-set gives Warpaint a consistency and cohesiveness that is absent from her previous, albeit still excellent, albums.
     "Waking Up" opens the album and also begins a trend I see Happy carrying on to Equipoise and Building The Colossus; it's arguably the catchiest and most listener-friendly track (relatively speaking) on the album, and is therefore an excellent choice with which to lure in a new listener. I see Happy continuing this idea with "Runners" opening Equipoise and "Hold Me" opening Building The Colossus. I love the care Happy takes with the background vocals and harmonies on this track. Musically, it's familiar to what Happy has done before, and yet it is taken to a much higher level, indicative of what's to come on the remainder of the album.
     I don't know what to say about "Feed the Fire" that would add anything to its excellence. To my ears, it's a masterpiece, which of course is fitting given its lyrical content. I can't recall a better musical homage from one musician to his/her influences, and Happy manages to capture and convey her sentiment without sounding precious or sentimental. She describes the music of her influences with words that convey a power and majesty that avoid pretentiousness. It's a wonderful moment, and one of my all-time favorite Happy songs.
     I see "Murder" and "To Live in Your World" as two parts of a very similar theme, one seeking the origins of man's murderous nature, the other confronting the remedy for that same nature. I think "Murder" is the stronger of the two, fitting easily with the sound introduced on the two previous tracks. "To Live in Your World" sounds a bit lackluster by comparison, and while I appreciate the quiet distaste Happy conveys in her lyrics, this track once again fits into the category of spoken-vocal Happy songs that don't quite work for me.
     I'm familiar with some artistic renderings of the god Phobos, and while I know Happy is singing about the moon that orbits Mars (if I recall correctly) in "Phobos", I cannot help picturing the god instead, which if I recall was a short, muscular, and very evil-looking creature with a warty nose and fiery fists, rather fitting for the son of the god of war. So to me, "Phobos" represents the one monster present on this album, a nice little tie-in to Happy's previous releases. Musically, the track continues this album's melodic excellence. (And for some reason my ear really perks up during the passage when Happy sings, "Myyyyyyyy friend.")
     "Wrong Century" was the first track to really grab my attention when I first listened to this album, probably because it boasts a hook that's quite memorable. Repeated listens have lessened my opinion of it slightly; while I find the verses to be stellar, especially the background vocal hums and the musical pause whenever Happy sings the title, the chorus doesn't work for me as well. Mitch Elrod's background vocals work better on "Proof" than here, although I do like the gibberish he contributes to the bridge. His harmonies and Happy's lead just don't quite gel on the chorus.
     "Lay Me Down" is the one song on this album that is most similar to something on the first four albums, particularly Rearmament. It's very simply arranged, with the keyboards front-and-center, and it's quite pretty, especially when the violin kicks in. The album continues in this somewhat quiet mode throughout "Terra Incognita" and "All Things." Like "Feed the Fire," with "Terra Incognita" Happy conquers lyrical territory that with a lesser songwriting might tread on sappiness, and yet somehow she manages to pull off a song sung from the point of view of a cat without inspiring uneasy chuckles. And I can't help but wonder if "All Things" is being sung by the same character who dreamed she was a cat in "Terra Incognita," but has now awakened ("I dreamed I was an animal in a human world....")
     I love "Words Weren't Made for Cowards," and can't help but consider it as an indirect follow-up to "Poetic Justice." The background vocals on this one always bring to mind Kate Bush's "Egypt." And the following title cut is just as good, although I always wish the initial chorus came along sooner. But that's a minor nit to an excellent song. "In Hiding" wraps things up nicely, as over a simple piano arrangement Happy muses over the paradox of how both revealing and concealing an artist's product can be of his or her personality.
     Bottom line, this is one of Happy's best pieces of work, and probably her most consistently good album besides Many Worlds Are Born Tonight. And besides all this, it will probably always stand out in Happy's catalogue as the one album that both consecutively and musically bridges the gap between her first four outings and everything released since.
     Grade: A. Best cuts: 1. "Feed the Fire"; 2. "Words Weren't Made for Cowards"; 3. "Terra Incognita"; 4. "Warpaint"; 5. "All Things". Least favorite cut: "To Live in Your World".
     At first I couldn't understand everyone's high ranking of Warpaint. I originally placed it number four behind Many Worlds are Born Tonight, Equipoise and Building The Colossus. The more I listen to it, though, the more it's rapidly growing on me. And usually the best albums are the ones that take their time enveloping your brain. "Feed the Fire" has always been a favorite, but my #2 favorite from the album would have to be a 9-way tie among the remainder of the tracks, with the exception of "Lay Me Down," which is excellent but not quite as good, and "To Live in Your World," which doesn't grab me at all. I think I like the acoustic version of "In Hiding" from Rhodesongs better than the one here. (Patrick)

Happy Rhodes' recordings:

The main Happy Rhodes page


1Singing along with Happy on these tracks is pure ecstasy. (

Thanks to Philip Sainty for his work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2008-07-13 17:51:31.
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