Tom Tikka and the Missing Hubcaps’ new album This Is My Happy Face is far from your standard boy meets girl pop/rock or other cookie cutter subjects. Tikka, instead, has penned an album about the Big Casino, death and may or may not await us following that looming eventuality, If this augers a heavy-going listen to you, I doubt you are alone.
It is mildly remarkable, however, Tikka’s collection avoids such a fate. The ten track studio album begins with “Bullet in the Head”. It isn’t a literal concept album in the sense of, let’s say, Tommy or The Wall, et al, but the tracks are thematically linked. There is a smattering of narrative, however, powering those connections and you can hear that in the album opener. The collection opens with a suicide and I can’t readily think of a more unique depiction of this than what we hear here from Tikka.
It doesn’t dominate the album’s sound, but the focus Tikka places on catchy yet biting guitar riffs is appealing in 2021. It doesn’t sound passé at all. “Heart’s On Fire” is an especially potent illustration of his approach. Alternating between passages propelled by muscular drumming and stripped down portions where Tikka’s vocals take the lead is an effective vehicle for the track and he further reinforces the song with on point keyboard contributions.
I can relate to “Doormat” and feel certain many others will as well. You will likely hear what I do, the simplicity underlying how Tikka lays this track out, but virtuoso trips aren’t what this album is about. No one will hear This Is My Happy Face and pine for extended guitar solos. Fundamentals are among the key selling points for this track and the intense guitar throughout the song puts an emphatic exclamation point on its emotions.
“Sweet Jesus!” is a much more varied musical experience than most on the album. The pace has a slow stride following a brief electronic introduction and a much more pop oriented slant. Guitar is still present, but it doesn’t have the same focus as other cuts. I believe the song has easy to overlook narrative strengths. An album pursuing such big screen themes asks a writer, no matter if they are novelists, poets, or songwriters, to raise their game and Tikka doesn’t disappoint.
Some listeners will note, as I do, the understated European flavor of the release. Dear reader, you may disagree, but it is difficult for me to imagine an American indie artist at the same level taking chances like Tikka does during “With Eyes Closed”. This is high pop with obvious classical overtones yet expertly keeps its feet planted in a pop world. Much of the thanks for maintaining this balancing act falls on Tikka’s singing.
I can’t believe anyone will feel indifferent about this album. It’s a take it or leave it experience. I am certain, however, that many listeners will admire its willingness to go the extra mile even if they aren’t interested in reaching the same destination. I can’t wait to hear more from this outstanding outfit.