Wednesday, 22 May 2013

THE WEEK THAT'S PAST: a new album from The House of Love

I first heard The House of Love back in 1990 when those jolly nice folk at Fontana Records sent me a copy of their second eponymous album, and I fell in love. I have been a fan of the band ever since.

The notoriously rocky relationship between the two main men, Guy Chadwick and Terry Bickers, came to a head in 1989, during the recording of the aforementioned album, and Bickers left before it was released. Guy Chadwick would later comment "we really needed guidance at that crucial point. Most groups just go nuts. It's like this huge trolley full of booze being placed in front of you. With a whiff of success, people change towards you. We were taking too many drugs, I was drinking ridiculously and that's the worst combination when things are going wrong."

The band split several albums and a couple of years later, and Chadwick went on to a solo career. During this time he released a beautiful solo album that I loved.  However, I have never found anyone else who has ever heard of it.

Much to everyone's surprise (including, one suspects, the band) Bickers and Chadwick kissed and made up in the early years of the 21st Century and reformed the band. Their second album She Paints Words in Red has only just come outand Matt Ingham at Cherry Red was kind enough to send me a copy...
The House of Love have always been a very strange band, juxtaposing seemingly disparate elements; pure, almost traditionally folky tunes, with some elegantly brutal space rock stylings and full on indie-band instrumentation with stylised and almost mannered arrangements. It is this dichotomy that has always impressed me about the band, and above all the fact that they take such a selection of dichotomous elements, that really should not work together, and then blend them seamlessly into some of the most sublime songs that I have ever heard.
File:Guy Chadwick.jpg
Let's get the big question out of the way first.  The two prime movers are no longer young men. Bickers is pushing fifty, and Chadwick is a decade older. The publicity photographs show two grim faced men who don't really look like pop stars. Chadwick, in particular, who once had very English demi-aristo good looks, has aged noticeably. But, who hasn't for Christ's sake. The man is pushing 60, and none of us look like we did a quarter of a century ago. (In fact I do, but I have always been fat with untidy long hair and a beard, but that's another story entirely).

All this stuff is irrelevant. The old concepts of pop stars looking like Matinée idols is a very 20th Century concept, and one which can nowadays be safely discarded. No, the important question is: Can the band still cut it? Is the new record any good?

And before we go on, let me answer a resounding YES to both questions. Yes, they can still cut it, and Yes the album is a corker.

Now, let's look at why. The opening track, the peculiarly named Baby Got Back On Its Feet does something that the band hasn't done for a while; it channels their inner Velvet Underground fanboys for the intro and the first verse, before seamlessly travelling into more familiar House of Love territory.

This is something which the band do several times throughout the record; they playfully lay a false trail, and then confound their listeners by going off on an entirely new and joyfully unexpected tangent.

Lyrically it is very dark in places, with lines like "Shoot somebody just for fun" and "I can't stand another minute creaking with the weight of it all". There are quite a few fleeting references to alcohol and possibly other more exotic methods of substance abuse, but the peculiar thing about it all is the feeling of celebration that emanates from the album as a whole. It is an open secret that both Chadwick and Bickers have suffered from depression, and related mental health problems (so have I, so I know where they are coming from), but whereas these darker times are referenced in quite a few of the lyrics, they are done so in a refreshingly je ne regrette rien kind of way, and I don't mean that either of them are channelling the spirit of the late Edith Piaf.

In fact, if I had to make any comparisons (and comparisons are, indeed, odious) it would be with The Beatles round about the time that Terry Bickers was born. Several of the songs, most notably the title track, would not have sounded out of place on Rubber Soul and that is a pretty high compliment. 

This is a lovely, multi-layered and multi-faceted album; each time I listen to it I hear something new that I had not heard before, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I will continue to discover new and pleasant surprises within it for some time to come.

But it is also an important album. We are living in strange and disturbing times, and one of the main reasons that I write this magazine and blog is not just because I get paid a few quid by Rob Ayling for so doing. Music is important. It has been important to every culture on earth since before we had a culture, and it continues to be important. However, this immeasurably basal cultural resource has been hijacked by the forces of mediocrity. The fact that the most commercially successful pop records of the present day come out of a series of horribly pasteurised, emasculated and homogenised  TV Talent shows, which have all the integrity of the worst and most vacuous type of pornography is something that I find very disturbing, and something which I think is a sign of our rapidly disintegrating and increasingly dysfunctional society.

The fact that two middle aged men can still make such a glorious, and joyful noise (as King David would have put it), and - well over a quarter of a century into their careers, still retain their integrity, and still break new and exciting ground, is something which I find very encouraging.

I can't wait to see what they will do next.

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