Today We’re The Greatest (EMI)
Happiness is tricky isn’t it?
I don’t mean finding it – though, yes, that’s bloody hard enough and the search often makes everything else in your day, or your life, look a doddle – but rather, actually getting it, and then working out what to do with it.
The thing is it’s not meant to be tough, or so we’ve been told. You’re happy, so everything is meant to be good. You’re happy, so everyone can see it and feel it. You’re happy, so you’re supposed to sound like it.
And by sound like it we mean doing approved happy things like being positive, being bouncy, being optimistic, feeling certain, gazing forward only, moving on, and whatever else happens, don’t look too deeply at what’s in your hands for fear of driving it away from overthinking.
On their rich, far-reaching, slowly but surely hooking-into-your-consciousness and into your pop-loving heart second album, Sydney’s Middle Kids come from a happy place.
Since their debut, singer/songwriter/guitarist Hannah Joy and bassplayer Tim Fitz have coupled up and parented, while drummer Harry Day has (probably) gladly left that to them but enjoyed being a key part of the rapid escalation of their career that took them from first gig to late night American TV in less than a year.
To which you can add, they solidified as a group – having begun as Joy’s solo project – survived the horrorshow that was 2020, and arrived with an album that is comfortably universal in its pop appeal as it is impressively written and presented.
And yet happiness is never so complicated, or at least variable in its impact, as it is here. There’s love all through these songs, in one form or another, but Joy, Fitz and Hay aren’t trying to sell you a dream.
One of the defining elements of Today We’re The Greatest, and for me at least, one of its most appealing aspects, is the ambiguity in its emotional tone. If you could ask the album how it felt, I suspect the answer would be a long pause, a smile accompanying a shake of the head, and a slow “yeah, pretty good. Mostly. No, really, pretty damn good. Mostly. I think. But, well, you know …”
The complexities of life – as couples, as singletons, as travellers, as someone with friends, as someone with responsibilities – are explored in the lyrics. Joy asks questions we all find popping up in our minds at times, and right from the start she describes someone told to look at hope as natural but who knows that old habits can pull you back.
Then, even as something like R U 4 Me bounces itself around the room with the thrill of release, and Questions blows away cobwebs with prancing brass, the extra message plays within or underneath.
It is in the seam of wistfulness throughout the “Hawaiian” guitar and melodica in Golden Star, or grounding Joy’s voice in Bad Neighbours, and just behind her electric shoegaze rain in Stacking Chairs. It’s in the way so much is held in as the guitars in Cellophane vibrate and bend rather than cut, or the bass and drums play with more than a touch of Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke in Run With You to make you dance alone even as the exultant fuzzy guitar runs free.
Things are good, yes. But if this was a status update it would be, well, complicated.
As the album closes with the title track, a song that leans confidently into a world where it could be an alternative Coldplay ballad for a walk along a grey beach - and defies you to find a reason to mock or sneer at this - Joy confesses she wants “the magic in the moment”.
Yet in tone as much as words she doesn’t pretend it’s a given that it will be found every time, or last when it does appear. But that’s ok because “today, we’re the greatest, even though we feel so small”, and that’s a good thing.
Like this record, which is a very very good thing indeed.