Definitely not to be mistaken for the Pharrell Williams song of the same name, the macabre “Happy” is Danny Elfman’s first solo/non-score single in 36 years, and at least a small-scale answer to the prayers Oingo Boingo fans have been offering up since the film composer’s rock ‘n’ roll band went the way of all flesh in the previous millennium.
The music video for “Happy” definitely has flesh going as it will, as a digitally manipulated version of Elfman’s face decays and has eyeballs popping in and out at will. Even images of puppies turn into skeletons in the timed-for-Halloween video. If you want creepy doll heads for the holidays, too, the video is not going to deny you doll heads. Occasionally topical lyrics — especially as the song kicks into a more thrashy mode midway through — a feeling that the song might be timed to the general election mood as much as All Hallow’s Eve.
Elfman explained the origins of the song in a statement. “I originally wrote ‘Happy’ to perform at Coachella 2020,” he said of that pandemic-thwarted festival gig. “It was written to be an absurd anti-pop song, designed to begin as a very simple pop tune that degrades into something more subversive. The cynical nature of the lyrics echo how I feel about living in a semi-dystopian world turned upside down.”
The song exists somewhere in the netherworld between vintage Boingo, the comedy-horror of Elfman’s song score for “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the more straight-up menacing sounds of Nine Inch Nails, as the maniacally grinning singer does not look to be playing his unhappiness strictly for sinister laughs.
Elfman handled guitars and synthesizers on the track, assisted by ubiquitous journeyman drummer Josh Freese (a Devo/Vandals/Nine Inch Nails veteran), guitarist Nili Brosh (Dethklok), bassist Stu Brooks (Dub Trio) and additional synthesizer contributor Randall Dunn.
“Halloween has always been my Big Night,” Elfman said. “As a child there was no competition. Coincidently, in my earlier band Oingo Boingo, our Halloween shows became special events and our biggest shows of the year. And double coincidently ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ also became a special live concert Halloween event, which became more successful than I’d ever dreamed possible. This really meant a lot to me as the character of Jack Skellington, who I related to quite closely, has for many years been a very special part of my life.”
Oingo Boingo’s last album was in 1994, followed by a farewell tour in 1995; Elfman has steadfastly resisted pleas for a reunion or even any kind of return to extracurricular rock outside of his film work. His lone pop solo album, “So-Lo,” came out in 1984.
Elfman is signed to the Anti- label for solo work, and his planned Coachella appearance in April of this year was expected to have revealed further possibilities for that. But with no possibilities for live unveilings any time soon, and the label saying “not at this time” when asked if there is any album news, Elfman’s faithful will have to be happy with “Happy” for now.