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Many, many moons ago, I dubbed Darren Hayes' second solo album on Ciao as having 'little thrill' to it, in spite of the fact that I did like many of the tracks. I changed my mind about 'The Tension and the Spark' after seeing the man himself live and began to see the album in an entirely different light; I'd been a big fan of Australian soft rockers Savage Garden, whom Darren was the lead vocalist and lyricist with, but have to say I wasn't all that taken with his first solo release 'Spin'. It was an album in many respects that tried too hard to emulate a commercial, Savage Garden vibe and it was clear that Darren didn't necessarily put a lot of 'heart' into that particular release.
Alas Savage Garden were just a distant memory; after announcing their split in the December of 2000, Darren and guitarist Daniel Jones decided to go their separate ways. By the sounds of it, the split was inevitable - Darren is in many respects a born performer, someone who relishes in the spotlight and who absorbs the source of light they can get. Daniel on the other hand seemed to be the introvert; a little shy and weary of fame, it seemed in many ways that Savage Garden became very much Darren Hayes' band, especially if you've read interviews with the front man himself or indeed seen the documentary 'Too Close For Comfort'. Darren speaks about his love for commercial success and how he used to value his own successes in life by how many top ten singles he had.
2004 brought new things though, as did 'The Tension and the Spark'. In many ways, it was the album Darren was born to release; although many of the tracks are solemn little numbers where the singer is trying to come to terms with fleeting fame and a tattered love life, you do get the sense that the second album was somewhat of a personal voyage for Hayes; it's raw, blunt and totally self deprecating and you get the feeling that the album was a healing process for the wounds in the singers life that had never quite healed over.
'CHANGE WILL COME...' (Lyric from 'Darkness')
As the opening track and sort of a reintroduction to Darren Hayes the artist, 'Darkness' works impeccably well on two levels. The first is that it sets the tone for the shape of things to come on 'The Tension and the Spark'; it's not a light track at all and could in fact be described as quite a heavy, self searching song in which the person is asking themselves quite simply where did my life go so dramatically wrong and why is there nothing but darkness in my life. The music is fairly faint, with the synth melody in the background being the blank canvas for the words of self doubt and intrigue. Secondly, 'Darkness' works well as an opening track because of it's, uh, darkness; it's not Savage Garden mark two, not by any stretch. Sure, 'Spin' started out with a track that wasn't exactly what you'd describe as celebrating the joys of love but 'Strange Relationship' at least boasted promise for a brighter future, be it in or out of love.
'Darkness' however is the proverbial finger beckoning the listener on Darren's own, extremely personal journey; it's dark, moody and confused but is a stunning opening track for all of those qualities. Released as the second single, I think it was a refreshing kind of release for Darren as an artist; it's not a song that will appeal to everyone because, in the true sense of Hollywood fiction, there is no promise of a greater life at the end of it. The track fades out with all of the self pity in the world and you can interpret it as Darren finally saying 'ok this is me now - forget Savage Garden, I'm openly weeping for you people. Take it or leave it'.
'SOMEWHERE INSIDE MY EVOLUTION' (Lyric from 'I Like The Way')
'I Like The Way' was the track that Darren performed live that made me change my mind about giving this album another try. I'd listened to 'The Tension and the Spark' once or twice before and shunned it as being a bit over the top for me. However, 'I Like the Way' is gloriously vivid and follows on from 'Darkness' in a very convincing way. You do honestly get the feeling that Darren has grown up and the second track on this album marks the way in which desire can tempt all with many surrendering to such afflictions.
I've always thought of 'I Like The Way' to be the song about a prostitute. It probably isn't and I'm probably reading too much into it. However, the lyrics seem to be imploring someone not to let physical attraction get the better of a weakened, overly tempted individual who is in desperate need of love rather than sexual attention. I really love the constant, stream of conscience type flow on this track; it makes for interesting listening but at the same time, a fluid, concerned story is unraveled. Darren's vocals are perfect on this one - too many times before, particularly on his first solo album, did he try and make things sound a bit boybandish. However, 'I Like the Way' instead succumbs to a contained yet pleading vocal performance which reinforces the words so beautifully, making it one of 'The Tension and the Sparks' most fabulous moments.
'FOR SOMETHING ORDINARY, IT'S SO EXTRAORDINARY' (Lyric from 'Light')
'Light' to me is perhaps the weakest song on the album; I like the mixture of sounds, and it boasts and attractive, gentle acoustic guitar ending. But for some reason I've always considered this one to be a bit of a weak link; it seems to be on one, monotonous level throughout and doesn't have a defining moment which I think a song about finding hope and stability craves. Having said that, Darren's sensible vocal performance suits the mood of the song but doesn't make it stand out as a killer track on here.
Written about Darren's best friend having a baby, the song makes sense from that perspective and tells a nice story about how something ordinary can change someone's life for the better. It's a pleasant track but doesn't necessarily fit the rest of the albums overall sound but in many respects is a lighter track which was perhaps necessary after two pretty macabre affairs.
'FAME IS SO CONTAGIOUS' (Lyric from 'Pop!ular)
'Pop!ular' was Darren's first single from 'The Tension and the Spark' and I have to say on a first listen I wasn't struck; I thought it was a very average, desperate attempt at fitting in with the kind of artists that like to disparage the business they are in whilst craving attention for themselves in the act. Many of Savage Garden's B-Sides did just that but of course they weren't thrusted into the singles chart and were merely designed to support the A-Side.
However, since first hearing it, 'Pop!ular' has shamelessly grown on me; I'm not saying it's Darren's greatest ever writing achievement. But it's a catchy, self reflective song about a business where the media constantly play on people getting famous for the sake of it by the endless stream of reality TV shows and random Las Vegas style marriages or sex tapes. Not necessarily in that order, you understand...One thing that is an advantage to 'Pop!ular' is the fact that it's fun, a little bit haughty but altogether a good pop anthem. Pity the public didn't consider it to be all that good although it did reach the number one spot on the dance music charts!
So 'Pop!ular' is probably more out of place then 'Light' but who cares? Dance people, dance!
'I TARNISHED ALL OUR MEMORIES BUT THEY'LL ALWAYS BE A TRACE OF YOU' (Lyric from 'Dublin Sky')
It was unusual for us to be nearly half way through a Darren Hayes album without so much of a ballad in ear shot. Alas, the exceptionally good 'Dublin Sky' seeks to change all of that although it's not the slushy, overly romantic type of ballad you'd perhaps expect from Hayes, it's a terrific, beautifully written song and one of 'Tension and the Sparks' finest assets. It's an honest, straight up love song about someone who cross-examines a relationship and tries to understand where it all went wrong whilst trying to convince themselves they'd moved on.
It's a simple formula and one that Darren always manages to pull off so well; it's got a gentle, easy guitar rhythm and some synth tunes thrown in for good measure but the track comes together so well and is topped off superbly by Darren's sincere yet soft vocal performance once again. It's a track from a perspective I think many would be able to appreciate and understand which makes the listening experience that much more significant and beautiful.
'OUTSIDE CONFIDENCE IS KING' (Lyric from 'Hero')
After such a tender and emotional track, 'Hero' has an initially upbeat feel to it. However, returning to the notion of being defeated, the track's most intriguing point is the fact that it sounds more positive than many tracks on 'The Tension and the Spark' but when you listen to it again, you realize that it's a song that is anything but a celebration of optimism.
'Hero' is a plea for people to back off; the person doesn't want to be the centre of attention at that moment of time and instead feels overwhelmed with pressure. The songs biggest misgiving in many ways is the fact that Darren's vocal performance doesn't imply that he is bogged down in pressure; instead the song sticks on the same octave for the most part which isn't necessarily a bad thing but doesn't reinforce the lyrics in such a convincing way as say on a track like 'Dublin Sky'.
Having said that, 'Hero' is one of my favourite tracks on the album; it has a slightly different vibe to it where you do genuinely believe - perhaps for the one and only time on 'The Tension and the Spark' - that Darren is writing from a different perspective to his own. Either that or it's the 'backlash' song to 'Pop!ular'.
'AM I SO UNLOVABLE?' (Lyric from 'Unlovable')
'Unlovable' was a track in the beginning that I couldn't stand; it begins with a spiral of synth sounds which sounds naff and essentially drives away any sincerity of the lyrics. Yet, when I went to see Darren live on his 'Dark Light' tour, 'Unlovable' went up in my estimations 110%; performed in a different environment, the sadness of the lyrics were brought to life with just a piano and vocal performance that made sense and ultimately made the song sound like a million bucks.
Since then, the albums version has grown on me but this is rather a begrudging relationship; I like it because I remember the beautiful live format but I do however like the story behind it. Darren later revealed that 'Unlovable' was as a result of a letter he wrote, but never sent, to an ex-lover who, when the broke up, mocked many of Darren's demons. One of the most poignant and heartfelt of the entire track is the repetition of 'you abandoned me' in response to 'you made me feel that my Father never loved me' or 'you made me feel that my Mother she abandoned me'.
In some ways it was the nature of the beast to keep in the electropop feel of this one or else it would have stuck out like a sore thumb in comparison to the albums other songs. However, 'Unlovable' would have been the albums killer track if it had been made minimalistic and even more sorrowful, with just the said piano and voice.
'I CALLED YOUR NAME TO LOVERS, JUST LIKE A SPINAL CHORD, SEVERED AND BROKEN BUT THE SPARKS STILL TRY' (Lyric from 'Void')
As you can tell from the above lyrics, 'Void' is the albums most perfect ballad. I'm kidding. In fact it's the polar opposite; it is a song about love but it's a song which questions where the heck love has gone in the world. Like 'Dublin Sky', it's a memory of good times spent with a lover whilst questioning the relationship in its entirety. It's a track that is desperately imploring the self to move on although the void of missing that perfect person is still painfully evident for the entire world to see.
The thing with 'Void' is that although it perhaps lacks a defining, killer moment in which Darren's voice announces it as such, the climax of the sound and voice pausing is so effective and eerie; it's a song driven by its stern and ever questioning lyrics which I personally like and the tune continues to keep the song moving but on the same level as it sounds like an almost grinding of guitars. It was a good thing to open 'Void' with the screeching of an electric guitar as that in itself makes it a track that endeavors to be darker but whilst keeping in with the synth music elements that act as the undertones on this one.
'FOR EVERY TIME I NEEDED TRUTH AND YOU WERE FAITHLESS' (Lyric from 'I Forgive You')
'I Forgive You' is the albums point of clarity; its still dark, brooding on past mistakes and hardships but it goes a step further than 'Unlovable' and results in an admittance that moving on will never change the past but making the healing process easier to handle. However, like 'Unlovable' you get the feeling that Darren is playing a very clever game with the lyrics; he is singing one thing but the lyrics are saying another. You want to believe that the person is moving on but somewhere inside his vocal performance I don't quite believe it.
It's another purely lyrical track; the tune keeps on the same fairly monotonous level but Darren's voice does occasionally dip in and out of whispers which is a nice touch but 'I Forgive You' certainly won't be the track from 'The Tension and the Spark' that you'll remember. You will like it though if you do like the rest of the album, that I'm sure of.
'I NO LONGER LIVE LIKE A MAN IN THE DARK, HIDING ALL THE PIECES OF MY BROKEN HEART' (Lyric from 'Feel')
In spite of this one being about the mending of a broken heart, 'Feel' is not an overtly joyous number; it's pretty much a calm, tranquil song in which the speaker realises and relishes in the fact that they are in a peaceful place within their life. For this reason, 'Feel' is one of the easiest to sing along to; the vocals are easy, not too high or too low, and overall it sounds like a lovely, soulful track which is something 'The Tension and the Spark' desperately needed.
If you were being really, mega, insanely picky, you could say that the calmness just didn't suit a track that realizes love can be a sweet thing without sorrow. However, when you contrast 'Feel' and consider it alongside every other track on the album, you realize that a slow, slightly withdrawn song is necessary to fit in with the overall notion of the healing of a broken heart and bitterly lost love.
'LOVE AND ATTRACTION, IT'S LIKE SEX AND PASSION' (Lyric from 'Love and Attraction')
After such a sedate track, 'Love and Attraction' is a song that really stands out; it's quite brash, confident and most importantly unbelievably catchy. What really makes this one a favourite of mine from 'The Tension and the Spark' is because of the complete confusion of the lyrics; it weights up the whole notion of love and attraction by clashing it with sex and passion and joy and sadness. It's a really interesting track and in hindsight, it's the track that Darren Hayes was actually letting himself known the world; although married to a woman for a short while in the 1990s, Darren's sexual orientation has always been a bit unclear, although he did participate in a civil ceremony with lover Richard Cullen a few years ago.
The electropop nature of the album is personified on this song; it's so vibrant and electric that 'Love and Attraction' would be an awesome track without such fun and inquisitive lyrics. It is the upbeat number, like 'Pop!ular' needed to stop it becoming a bit too melancholic. It's a wonderful moment and just a fantastic track, with a tune the Killers would be proud to call their own because of its energy.
'DARE TO BE LOVE'S FOOL' (Lyric from 'Sense of Humor')
After such a brimming and delightful track, 'Sense of Humor' seems a bit like a fall from grace; it's slower and the manic depressive version of 'Feel', at least tune wise. However, if you get over it's far from stunning pace, you'll uncover a gem of a track again largely because of Darren's lush vocals and the excellent lyrics.
'Sense of Humor' is a track which relies heavily on Darren's ability to sound sincere; the lyrics are basically just a stream of conscience about a man who is trying to convince someone that they'll love each and every part of them, even the less than positive parts that no one else could. This is where Darren's voice becomes the key tool though; switching from a statement to a plea to be noticed, 'Sense of Humor' shows a character who seems to be desperately under confident but ups the bravado as a way to hide their lack of self esteem. When you consider the song in this light, you'll soon discover 'Sense of Humor' to be one of the most thoughtful and sensitive of the entire album.
'PERSONAL PRONOUNS ARE THE DEATH OF ME' (Lyric from 'Ego')
Starting out with a solemn, marching piano sound, the albums final track 'Ego' is the song that seems to exemplify the entire album. It's a song about someone who is trying to quite simply let go of their demons and ego issues. The music sounds like a radio that is switches between stations and invariably could be a metaphor for a person who is undecided as to whether their ego is a blessing or a complete disaster; the fade out of low murmurings colliding with high whines also implies this.
In many ways it's an unspectacular way to end the album; although when you break it down, you find that the song is cleverly crafted and very thorough but it does just filter away rather than coming to some sort of conclusion which is a bit of a shame. Yet, 'Ego' is still a good, listenable track - it's just not the most memorable from 'The Tension and the Spark'.
OVERALL: IS 'THE TENSION AND THE SPARK' A GOOD ALBUM?
To me, 'The Tension and the Spark' is one of the best albums ever written; although it will undeniably take you a few listens to understand and appreciate its beauty and mystery, once you do many of the songs will be irresistible and simply stunning pieces of music. It's obvious that Darren and his producers have taken a lot of care and effort into making this a wonderful, fulfilling album albeit a personal one; you can tell as Darren sings many of the lyrics that he is either bleeding or letting a part of himself go and it makes for a genuine and exceptional album.
Don't be mistaken - there are a few dud tracks. Some of them perhaps don't come to life, particularly 'Light' and some are difficult to appreciate on a first or second listen, such as 'Sense of Humor'. However, they'll be a day when you listen to the album and you will completely and utterly understand the direction each of the songs were perhaps meant to go in and the interpretation will be sound and clear; it just takes a little time.
It is an album that is quite self absorbing; you do get the impression that Darren wrote 'The Tension and the Spark' instead of going to therapy sessions! However, in many ways, that kind of feeling and deep emotion is what makes the album great because each track has some sort of intensity that many could identify with and relate to, whether it is rejection, loneliness or the loss of love.
The electropop feel of the album is not something that should put you off; I'm mainly a rock music fan but there is just something about this album that is magnetic and so well written that you can't help but be taken in by it and find yourself enjoying every last second of it. And don't let the darkness of some of the songs be another thing that puts you off; sure it can be depressing in places but it's in the best way possible because of its unbelievably unique method of storytelling and the relationship between the lyrics and tunes. Don't get me wrong, it's a big departure away from anything Darren has ever written before; Savage Garden's two albums and his first solo effort 'Spin' are simply completely different pieces of music altogether. However it's the best change Darren could have possibly made because - it has to be said - some of his poppy stuff had become rather stale and a bit too much the same.
What I'm really, really trying to say is go out and find out for yourself! 'The Tension and the Spark' has to be one of my favourite albums; it's unique, fresh and brilliantly well written; every situation is glowing and oddly charming and - most importantly - it's a pleasure to listen to over and over again.
Approximate length of album: 64.08 minutes
Number of tracks: 13
Buy: £9.98 from Amazon.co.uk (free delivery!)
Today I took possession of the car I bought last weekend (another second hand banger which if Im honest I dont even like driving) and for some odd reason it reminded me of this album.
Darren Hayes is probably best known for his part in duo Savage Garden, this is his second solo release the first being Spin, not having been overly keen on Spin I was dubious about buying this but hearing Pop!ular on the radio pursuaded me to give it a try.
The first track Darkness seems to just plod along musically and the lyrics are nothing special yet some how have stuck in my head (am sat here singing along about an libe or two earlier than the lyric on the cd!).
I Like the way with its more syth'd music is slightly more memorable but still makes very little impact, including the lyrics which gave the album its title.
Light follow this pattern of being nothing special yet having stuck in my memory over the time its been since I last listened to this.
Pop!ular is the first single which was released and as far as I can recall the only one which I ever heard on the radio - though Im sure others were released after. The song is a satirical look at hoe fame affects people and how the desire to be famous can change you.
'I must confess Ive been a very bad boy/ been sleepin around/ talk of the town my name is'
But again there is nothing really special about this which would make it stand out and given that the first single is what an album can live or die on it is understandable that this wasnt more successful.
Dublin Sky is the next track and is one I actually really enjoy, it is a fairly typical ballard but the lyrics and emotion with which they are sung give it depth and meaning
'How many years am i gonna regret you/how many nights til I forget you/have i been wasting all those years'
Hero is another which I really like, again the lyrics are memorable and the music behind most of the time is little more than a beat.
'Ladies and gentlemen listen up please I dont want to be you hero/ no iam not open parts of me are broken/do yourself a favour save your self'
Unlovable I seem to remember at the time became almost like my anthem but at the time being single and bitter (breakups are great arent they) I identified with it strongly. Listening to it now I dont feel that I identify with it in the same way but I do still enjoy it and am promising now never to let anyone make me feel the way my ex did! (Honey that means you really are stuck with me).
'Are my lips unkissable/ are my eyes unlookable/is my skin untouchable/am I unlovable?'
Void again as with the other tracks I remember clearly, but equally I wouldnt pick it out as a song to listen to if I was given a choice. About a person who is lonely after a break up but is still thinking about the person they have lost. It is a good choice to follow on from Unloveable since it seems to be written with the perspective of time.
I forgive you, sounds alot like something Savage Garden would have had on an album, to slow things down without losing whatever it was that made them so great, luckily whoever did the music for this was up to the challenge and that this is Darren solo could almost be forgotten.
Feel, is even slower than Dublin Sky had has less musical backing than Hero through much of the song. Interestingly enough I dont remember this one as well as the others but listening to it now I like it better than many of the others.
Love and Attraction is brighter than some of the earlier tracks which is quite welcome since I vividly remember my flatmates taking the album off me until I cheered up (that break up was a big one) and they made me listen to something horrendous like Spice Girls until I became 'normal' again (that may be the source of some of my problems I suppose). Anyway back to the song, its breating the way that you can be attracted to someone but that it is rare to find it reciprocated and even rarer to find that love grows between those people. So not all that cheery after all.
Sense of Humour, is talking about the same things as Love and Attraction, but is how he wishes things could be, wishing that the object of his affections could feel the same as he does.
'you will find my scent attractive/you will like my real engaging eyes/and playful childlike smile'
Ego is the final track on the album. And in my opinion the worst, it is slow in fact almost backwards, it sounds as though he is singing as he thinks up the lyric. But if you can be bothered to listen the lyrics are as with most of others worth thinking about, its a shame that musically this is so 'blah' and then it just ends.
Despite what must come across as a negative review I actually really enjoyed this album, I think that though it lacked success in terms of sales (and ultimately led to Hayes losing his contract) it is actually much better than Spin and because it isnt too poppy it will be something that you can come back to again and again (its been at least two years since I last listened to it and I have no idea why my new car would remind me of it!). As whole the songs all have a feature which make them in some way memorable even if its just that they are placed in the order they are.
It is totally different to Spin and Savage Garden but underlines Darren Hayes' talent as a songwriter since he can write songs in such different styles, it is a shame that this wasnt more successful but since his third album (possibly I should say 4th since the Savage Garden greatest hits had some of his solo work included) is due for release later this year and has had much better reviews from critics it is possibly no bad thing overall.
It is worth mentioning that the CD is copy protected and can only be played on a PC through the included software, which in all honesty is no real problem unless you live in a world where everything 'HAS' to be on mp3 but I expect it can be bought as a download somewhere like iTunes. But playing it on a cd player is fine, there have been some reports of the cd not playing at all but that batch I believe has all be rounded up so should you buy a copy it shouldnt suffer from silent syndrome.
When I bought this back in 2004 it'll have cost me the typical £10 that an album from Tescos will be now it can be bought for the same amount from amazon or £2 in the market place (from where I'll be buying a new copy as mine is scratched).
If you want to take a risk with music this year, make it this album
I dont know about anyone else, but all year I have been bored by the music dominating the airwaves and TV this year. It has been blanded out by endless repetition of formula and talent shows which might find some excellent voices but then dictate the styles of music they produce. I was looking for something new and different, something which broke the mould. Funny that I should find it in the artist that I most admire.
You might know the name Darren Hayes as the lead singer of Australian duo Savage Garden, or from his 2002 hit album Spin. If you do, youll need to put any pre-conceptions of him aside for this one. Or you might not have heard of this talented singer-songwriter at all, which is a shame, as his newest album The Tension And The Spark is currently one of the hidden gems of the year.
Its very hard to categorise this album, to find a niche into which it will easily fit. It is a sweeping soundscape, an emotional journey conveyed through both the honest and often blunt lyrics and carefully layered electronic music with heart. From the insistent opening bars of up-and-coming single Darkness, the music sucks you in and carries you along, through highs and lows that many of us experience during our lives. I cant recapture the atmosphere of the album here in words, its far more that just and a singer and music, its music that makes you feel, sometimes to the point of discomfort.
It is an album of opposites, there is a stark contrast between the soothing sounds of tracks Light and Feel, and the hurt that Hayes spits out in Unlovable and Void. Both of these songs have an experimental feel to them. The vocals of the first two verses of Unlovable come out in a torrent of bitterness, while the thudding music hammers home the point. And yet, in sweet contrast there is the chorus, you made me feel like my father never loved me, you make me feel like the act of love is empty, am I so unlovable? which conveys an aching heart so beautifully. In Void, the theme continues with the use of highly distorted guitars which jar at the nerves. Here also is one of my personal favourites lyric-wise Ive called your name to others, just like a spinal chord, severed and broken, but the spark still tries
Following this is I Forgive You, a crazy mix of many influences a touch George Michael, a bit Depeche Mode which mashes together to produce another song which oozes pain, although in this one Darren is close to conquering the hurt and recognizing that although his ex has treated him badly, forgiveness is the only way that he can move on. Be warned: this whole middle section of the album could be categorized uneasy listening, except if youve been there yourself and can appreciate the passion with which it has been produced. Consider this also this is all from the guy who has been much-maligned in the past for his world-famous ballads such as Truly Madly Deeply and Insatiable. The innocence and purity of these songs is evident in Light and Feel, but love has most definitely been lost along the way. Even the most traditional Darren Hayes/Savage Garden track Dublin Sky is the antithesis of these ballads as he remembers the uneasiness as a relationship slipped through his fingers. This one is a real tear-jerker, and I think could be a massive hit if released as a single.
My personal favourite is Sense of Humour, the penultimate track on the album, which builds from an almost bluesy-type beginning (think George Michaels Jesus To A Child or the like) into crescendo close to trip-hop. I know it sounds bizarre, but like the rest of the album, it needs to be heard to be appreciated. Here again are some of my favourite lyrics. All the blinking lights, noise of eternity, all the sentences whirling inside of me express the bewilderment of a person lost, with nowhere left to turn except into himself, and into the darkness.
The Tension And The Spark is the story of the re-invention of a man, both as a person and as a recording artist. Its daring, emotive, musically brilliant and lyrically beyond compare. In a few years time it might be one of those albums that everybody has in their collection. To quote Love And Attraction Aint nobody willing to break the mould? Yes, Darren Hayes, and hes doing it with considerable style.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 I Like The Way
5 Dublin Sky
9 I Forgive You
11 Love and Attraction
12 Sense Of Humor