Chaka Khan — Hello Happiness
PRAISE for later-life comebacks by once-outstanding artists is often based more on affection than merit. ‘Their best album since [name of last great record],’ everyone will enthuse, which is a nice way of saying it’s not quite as disappointing as what came between.
Well, not in this case. Because Chaka Khan’s first album in 12 years is a straight-up, honest-to-God stormer.
Following what has in recent years become a trend of American R&B stars turning to British music-makers, she has teamed up with Switch, erstwhile founding member of Major Lazer, and his production and writing partner Sarah Ruba Taylor. Switch is better known for a style of electronic music he once jokingly described as ‘fidget house’, only to see the name take off.
It is at best a very distant cousin to Khan’s sock-it-to-’em funk, even in her electro-heavy early-1980s prime. That’s one reason Hello Happiness is so refreshing. It is unmistakably Khan, but it is neither a retread of her catalogue nor Switch’s. Indeed, its pneumatic mash-up of disco-funk and modern digital wizardry is beholden to no single identifiable genre of the moment. (Don’t Cha Know is more than a little Beyoncé-ish, true; but consider that a debt repaid.)
It’s a bassy, brassy, bouncy album, full of life and variety, all held together by 65-year-old Khan’s unmistakable voice.
Most importantly, the songs are an absolute blast: tuneful, exuberant and energetic. ‘Oh my, what a sweet surprise,’ Khan sings on the lilting Latin closer, Ladylike. And that’s exactly what this is — a short one, too, at a mere seven tracks and 27 minutes. Short and sweet is just fine when not one moment is anything but joyous.