Apart from maybe the onset of summer, there aren't too many things more anticipated in Pittsburgh than a new record from the Clarks. This year, both events occur simultaneously, and the legions of fans in and around the Pittsburgh area that have supported the band over the years have good reason to celebrate, as Another Happy Ending is the Clarks' best album yet.
Combining a real modern approach and sonic diversity with the all-American sound that has been their hallmark, this disc could be the one that finally lets the rest of the USA in one of the best kept secrets in rock. As well as selling in excess of 100,000 albums in their hometown, the Clarks effectively created the Pittsburgh scene that spawned major-label bands Gathering Field and Rusted Root, and even though they may not admit to it, they must collectively harbour a desire to prove themselves to the rest of the nation.
Another Happy Ending follows the critical and commercial success of the band's previous Razor and Tie album, Let It Go, and reunites the Clarks with producer Justin Niebank, who revolutionized the band's sound and pushed the band's creative instincts to the maximum on that album. It's clearly a combination worth revisiting, and Niebank's rich, yet never overbearing production works well with the intelligent, diverse collection of songs the band has crafted. The hypnotic guitar effects and drum loop on "So You Can Sleep At Night" is the most obvious example of this, but the innate musical chemistry that exists between the Clarks is evident throughout.
The first single is the magnificent, emotionally charged anthem, "Hey You", and it's something of a departure for a band that has typically relied on the basics of drums, bass, guitar and a voice for impact. A lush string arrangement gives a fitting depth to a song inspired by, but not written about, the terrible events of September 11th. In Pittsburgh, where the Clarks regularly outsell national artists, it will undoubtedly be hugely popular, but the universal theme and commercial edge of the song means it has a real chance of crossing over nationally as well.
Lead singer Scott Blasey seems to have taken on the mantle of penning the Clarks' more poignant and reflective tunes. Following "Hey You", his songs, such as the philosophical "All the Things I Wanted In Life" and the soaring sitar-tinged "Love Is What You Need", explore interesting lyrical territory whilst retaining an ever-present sense of melody. Another Blasey composition, "Wasting Time" is a dark and mournful tune that spectacularly explodes into life midway through, and "This Old House is Burning Down Tonight" is a masterful take on break-ups, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez-style, which cleverly charts the climax of an acrimonious split with a wry sense of humour.
That's not to say the band that built their name on tongue in cheek tunes such as "Courtney", "Caroline" and "Cigarette" have forgotten how to have fun; far from it. The excellent "Inside You" and opener "Maybe" are perfect 3 minute pop-rock songs that remain typically Clarks, yet demonstrate a more commercial sound to rival "Better Off Without You" from Let It Go. Elsewhere, "Boys Lie" is a hit waiting to happen thanks to an undeniable melody line and, along with a number of songs from this record, will no doubt be a staple at live shows for years to come. But it's possibly the wonderful "On Saturday" that could provide the band's best chance of a summer smash with a breezy, memorable chorus and a pop sound unlike anything the band has ever done before.
Indeed, there's nothing on Another Happy Ending to suggest that the Clarks could not possibly appeal to a wider audience. After all, their guitar based pop-rock is quintessentially American, and with an album loaded with potential hits, the time could finally be right for the band to make the leap from local heroes to national acclaim.