As Homer Simpson once observed, apropos of the Smashing Pumpkins, "Making teenagers unhappy is like shooting fish in a barrel." I was once such a

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Shiny happy Europop

As Homer Simpson once observed, apropos of the Smashing Pumpkins, "Making teenagers unhappy is like shooting fish in a barrel." I was once such a sad sack. Whenever pesky do-gooders needled with that old chestnut about how frowning requiring more muscles than smiling, I'd glower back and mutter, "At least I'm getting some exercise."

Nowadays when I want a workout, I just visit the gym. Something unimaginable happened when I turned 30: I started cultivating cheerfulness. I'm in no danger of being crowned Mr. Congeniality, but I lack the discipline to be unwaveringly morose any more. Sure, when "Don't Worry, Be Happy" comes on the radio, I throw back my head and howl like a wounded animal (what sensible person doesn't?), but for the most part I'm as happy-go-lucky as an unattached workaholic with a receding hairline can be.

Not that being glum around Jacques Lu Cont—alias Les Rythmes Digitales—is a viable option. With his maraschino cherry-colored pixie cut and cocky smile, the 21-year-old French-born British musician looks as though worry rarely creases his tender brow. If you've heard LRD's peppy neo- synth pop singles, "Jacques Your Body (Make Me Sweat)" and "Sometimes," or checked out his infectious remixes for bands as varied as Cornershop, Cassius, and dance floor favorites Pavement, Lu Cont's chipper disposition shouldn't come as a shock— although it certainly throws the validity of his French birth into question.

I've always argued that all the finest new wave songs deal with isolation, technology, or both. Nobody ever wanted to give Gary Numan a hug after deciphering "Are 'Friends' Electric?" Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's catchiest ditty commemorated the bombing of Hiroshima. But in this regard, Human League-devotee Lu Cont deviates from tradition. While LRD's forthcoming disc Darkdancer (due in October on Astralwerks) covers a reasonably broad spectrum of emotions, particularly on the unsettling "Damaged People," the overall vibe is irresistibly uplifting.

"What is it about the late '90s that says you have to make a record that's moody?" Lu Cont laments, sipping iced tea in a Greenwich Village cafe. "Why are people so scared to write happy music?" Because that's how songs like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" happen, Jacques.

LRD's domestic debut may not make "the sun shine brighter than Doris Day," but it certainly cheers me more than all the screeching Guns N' Roses knockoffs and banal boy bands that violate my ears when I flick on The Box. Is my reaction purely knee-jerk nostalgia, a last grasp at the dissipating vestiges of youth, sparked by Lu Cont's blatant '80s fetish? No, because when I reflect honestly on my life during the Reagan era, I'm confronted with the unflattering image of a young man in a faded black raincoat listening endlessly to The Smiths. Darkdancer works as a tonic for urban blues because Jacques Lu Cont nefariously engineered it to do so. Bravo!

I know what you're thinking, gentle reader: "This French guy sounds swell, but his album's not out for weeks. What am I supposed to do when my mood sours tomorrow? Eat ecstasy as if it were M&Ms? Get my chakra massaged?" Don't be ridiculous. CDs are cheaper than drugs. Buy All-In (on Emperor Norton) by Dutch pop music pastiche masters Arling & Cameron, and turn that frown upside down.

A testimonial: Sunday nights fill me with dread, and last week's was no exception. Just a few hours earlier, I was drinking beers on the sprawling lawn of a friend's parents' country house. Even losing three games of bocce couldn't dampen my spirits. But soon I could feel Monday morning breathing down my neck, and I grew grouchy. Hardly the best head space in which to go to a rock club. But Arling & Cameron were playing that night in the East Village, and I didn't want to risk missing something phenomenal.

Good call. These boys make Pizzicato 5 look like Joy Division—and without all that messy confetti. As the band glided into "Speeding Down the Highway," the catchiest song about driving since Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," I caught myself miming the motions of turning a steering wheel and shifting gears. Next to me, a handsome youth perched on a chair blissfully shook his moneymaker like he was fulfilling his secret go-go boy fantasy; it was all I could do not to yank on his waistband and stuff a dollar down his trousers.

Those of you nurturing your Inner Sullen Teen can keep the latest from Chevelle or, worse still, continue supporting miserable Billy Corgan. But I'm sticking with Arling & Cameron and Les Rythmes Digitales. After all, how often do you meet Europeans who actually aspire to make you happy?

 
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