As a dark and moody British independent rock act, Camberwell, London’s Beloved floundered in obscurity for much of the late ’80s, releasing a series of unsuccessful singles (eventually compiled as Where It Is). Comparisons to early New Order are inevitable, not just because of the similarity between Jon Marsh’s plain-but-comforting vocals and those of Bernard Sumner, but by dint of the band’s jolting instrumentation (as on “This Means War”) and furtive experiments with drum boxes and synthesizers. The beautiful ballad “Surprise Me” aside, the most remarkable thing about the original Beloved was that they persisted for so long with such mediocre results.
The group then split in half, leaving Marsh and keyboardist Steve Waddington to pursue a growing fascination with dance music. After several further unspectacular singles, they re-emerged on a major label, still casting reflections to New Order, but suddenly — and spectacularly — as peers rather than from a distance. Building on layers of luscious synthesizer and relaxed dance beats, still utilizing guitars (but without aggression), the duo came up with a mellow anthem for the rave generation (“The Sun Rising”), quickly followed it up with a list of their own reference points (“Hello”) and then unleashed a debut album that lived up to its title in all respects. Every song on Happiness sounds like a single; with its inviting melodies, relaxed grooves and a feel for commercial appeal that never sacrifices subtlety, it is the perfect pop souvenir of Britain’s turn-of-the-decade dance movement.
A fondness for remixes and the procession of singles drawn from Happiness led to the equally joyful listen of Blissed Out, which reprises most of the album’s tracks in extended form(s). (The cassette has five bonus mixes.)