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Hollie Cook’s Happy Hour, album review – a worthy modern example of love rock

Hollie Cook works in a genre considered the first black British musical form, precursor to jungle, British garage and grime. It’s amorous rock, the romantic reggae style that emerged in London in the 1970s as a less macho alternative to Jamaica’s Rastafarian roots-reggae.

Love rock’s first hit was Louisa Mark’s “Caught You in a Lie”, a story of uncovered infidelity which was released in 1975. That year saw the start of a band that also had a significant influence about Hollie Cook’s training as a musician – the Sex Pistols, whose drummer is her father, Paul Cook.

Hollie was born in 1987, a decade after the punk wars, and sometime after the heyday of the rock love charts too. His mother, Jeni Cook, was also in the music business: she sang backing vocals for Culture Club (Boy George is Hollie’s godfather). The daughter followed her parents into the family business as a keyboardist and backing vocalist in The Slits’ final line-up when the famed all-girl punk band reunited in 2005.

His solo debut was Hollie Cook, which was released in 2011. It had a retro-reggae sound, done with a light touch rather than a rough pastiche. Over subsequent releases, the ska, rocksteady and dub elements of his music were subsumed into the soulful melodies of rock lovers. This became the main focus of his reggae revivalism.

His fourth album happy hour opens with the title track, in which Cook sings the part of a woman sitting in a bar with an empty glass. She is expecting a lover whose delay makes her feel helpless trapped in the relationship. His voice is soft but plaintive, a melodious counterpart to the tight mesh of rhythms. The result is deft storytelling, with a sure sense of timing and an engaging, enigmatic emotional dynamic.

The atmospheric string arrangements of breakup song “Moving On” evoke the richly orchestrated influence of Philadelphia soul on love rock. In “Unkind Love”, Cook’s clean tones are contrasted with the pressing low frequencies of a set of horns. The contrast exemplifies the song’s narrative of an obsessive love story that is both intoxicating and heartbreaking.

Cook co-produced the songs with his musical accompanists, Luke Allwood and Ben Mcckone of London reggae band General Roots. The executive producer is Martin “Youth” Glover, former bassist of Killing Joke. Stylistic variations include “Gold Girl,” which has the symphonic grandeur of a Bond theme, and “Move My Way,” which is closer to Soul II Soul than reggae.

“Kush Kween” is a lighthearted ode to marijuana with guest appearance from Jamaican singer Jah9. Its sequels seem to infuse “Love in the Dark,” a sultry number with psychedelic dub-reggae effects. The album’s varied moods are true to the original spirit of love rock, whose signature songs ranged from fading romance like Carroll Thompson’s “Hopelessly in Love” to the bittersweet sentiments of Janet Kay’s “Silly Games.” With happy hourCook proves to be a worthy modern-day successor.

★★★★☆

happy hour‘ is released by Merge Records


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