It's hard not to want to be Josh Rouse. He writes effortlessly catchy melodic pop songs about his idyllic life, which seems to be an endless stream of lazy Sundays. There's not a hint of misery in his recent life, with his marriage and subsequent move to Valencia infusing his last few studio efforts with some Spanish sunshine. He's built his own studio in Spain and has a devoted fan base, which has helped to fund the release of his newest album. He's also prolific having released 10 records in just 15 years. Who indeed wouldn't want to be Josh Rouse? New album The Happiness Waltz is just the latest reason why he's apparently one of the most contented men in music.
While the album is an easy going 40 minutes, it's full of autobiographical touches and heartfelt honesty. The Spanish guitars have also taken a backseat with a return to the alt country of Rouse's youth guiding many of the musical choices made here. He quite literally invites you into his world on the opening track 'Julie (Come Out Of The Rain)', although it's about the only time I can remember California ever being described as cold and grey. Musically, it's a perfect example of the Nashville tinged pop that Rouse mastered on previous albums, with a wonderfully downbeat solo thrown in. "Give me a smile and say, everything's ok", Rouse insists as the song nears its end; it's a sign that album number 10 is likely to live up to its title.
And for the most part, The Happiness Waltz delivers on that promise. It's full of positivity ("You've seen a lot of bad times, right now would be a good time, to turn it around and start up a family"), which could be problematic if the songs weren't quite so catchy. Usually sugar coated songs about how good life is are a sign that an artist has encountered a creative lull. But in Rouse's case he's not showboating, nor does he need to mine his inner demons to engage with his audience. The songs here are on a par with much of his earlier work, and while there's a nostalgic tone to many of the tracks, he doesn't seem to be reliving past glories. Instead, he's writing about the present and the prospect of growing old gracefully.
It also seems that by revisiting the Americana of his youth, Rouse is posing himself a question. 'City People, City Things' is a love letter to New York for example. But by the time he starts contemplating his age and the grey flecks in his hair on 'Our Love', he makes a decision about where his future lies; "Call in on Skype while I'm out on tour, look for a place in the States. Brooklyn is nice, but it's so damn expensive, stay right here in Spain." Unsurprisingly, the remaining songs start to embrace a more varied musical palette as brass and strings start to creep in to join the country guitars of earlier tracks. Even at his most downbeat on 'The Ocean', there's a dreamlike quality rather than despair that prevails, which then leads on to the jazzy waltz of the title track, ultimately leaving the listener with a more hopeful outlook.
'The Happiness Waltz' may not be the best introduction to Rouse's work, as it feels like an ending to a chapter rather than a bold musical statement. Perhaps that's why it's so fitting that the album is partially fan funded. However, it's yet another example of how good his song writing can be that he can find inspiration in everyday pleasures without the material becoming mundane. It seems that he'll hold the record for the least dull song to have the word 'beige' in the title for some time to come.