HAVE A NICE LIFE- ‘Sea of Worry’

Evolution is a funny thing. It can be beautiful, or at least yield beautiful results, but progress, the process of change, is often awkward and ugly and odd. When Have a Nice Life (who have previously sounded like they want you to have anything but) unveiled the first single from this, their third full length, it was clear some change was gonna come.

The song seemed to emphasise the pure post-punk elements of the band’s previous output, and do it at the expense of their darker, deeper, more distinctive style. In the spirit of a band praised for cross-pollinating genres, it was… goth surf rock. It’s less jarring in context but there’s little denying that ‘Sea of Worry’ finds its creators in flux. For better and worse, Have a Nice Life are evolving.

That means less distortion, more definition, less lo-fi layers, more uptempo grunge. Melodies are clean, beats gentle, speakers intact. There’s even some earnest “oohs” and “woahs”. And while Dan Barrett’s vocals were once described as a “poisonous fog”, here they are bright and, all things relative, positively breezy. The lyrics still tell tales of fear, frustration and woe but there’s only a creaky synchronicity with the music. Despite its title, ‘Dracula Bells’ spends very little time in the shadows, the title track is ‘My Sharona’ via the Pixies, and the back end of ‘Science Beat’ sounds alarmingly like Tears For Fears.

Have a Nice Life haven’t abandoned everything that made their name such a misnomer. ‘Sea of Worry’ is an album of two halves, and the B-side here is A-grade doom and gloom. The instrumental ‘Everything We Forget’ longs for a killer crescendo but is both eerie and cinematic while it whirrs, and ‘Lords of Tresserhorn’ incorporates melancholy piano and increasingly-distorted bass to brilliant effect. There’s monastic chants and samples about hell too but, unlike before, nothing that will lift the hairs all the way off the back of your neck. It’s like the Connecticut outfit have shed their skin but not fully formed a new one.

Maybe Barrett and bandmate Tim Macuga felt they had mined the mire for everything of value. Maybe that headspace was too much like hard work. Maybe they didn’t want to feel so damn haunted. But while there are electric moments here, what they’ve gained in verve and accessibility, they’ve lost in weight and staying power. This is also their shortest album at some 45 minutes long, 13 minutes of which is a new (admittedly arresting) version of an old song. It sounds more dismissive than the record deserves but this could almost be a palette cleanser, a flawed but tantalising taster of what could happen next.

 ‘Sea of Worry’ feels like Have a Nice Life crawling out of some primordial ooze where they were the big fish, and into a light where they’ve been revealed as something transforming but not quite transformed. They’ve been caught in the middle of a mutation. They should earn plaudits for the effort and the daring but this evolution is unfinished. This is awkward and odd. Beauty is, hopefully, to come.

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