Former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon’s previous four solo albums were really glorified demos. 1998’s The Sky Is Too High was impressive, but the others had too many sloppily penned love letters to the American indie scene, and sounded especially amateurish compared with Blur’s unheralded contributions to the waning Britpop field.

With the aid of Blur producer Stephen Street, Coxon steps up his game on Happiness in Magazines, dropping the cut-rate production and slack-jawed ramblings for inspired jolts of preening rock and occasional arty twists, such as the Ennio Morricone-meets-Scott Walker gloom pop of "Are You Ready?"

"No Good Time" harkens back to the irresistible schoolboys-in-disgrace bop ’n’ chug of Blur’s mid-’90s period. And unhinged paint-peelers like like "Spectacular" and "Freakin’ Out" (which sounds a lot like American power-pop progenitors the Flamin’ Groovies) are the kind of carefree melodic racket that makes you glad to be alive.

Grade: B

© 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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