Self-reflection After Indulgence
Two decades after this British guitar-based, atmospheric band’s dissolution, this second album in a reunion phase joins singer/songwriter Guy Chadwick with bassist Matt Jury and original members, lead guitarist Terry Bickers and drummer Pete Evans. 2005 offered Days Run Away after 12 years off. Bickers and Chadwick had bickered. Their sundered pairing had mirrored, some observed, the Smiths’ Morrissey and Johnny Marr. As many had compared the House of Love as an earnest homage to that Manchester ensemble, it’s noteworthy that, after Bickers’ breakaway, the band failed to sustain the impact of its initial albums (confusingly with the same eponymous title).
The album’s title of this suits well the band’s commitment to a second album in its second incarnation. “A Baby Got Back on Its Feet” opens with a slightly deeper, mellower tone to Chadwick’s voice. The song’s pacing and moods mirror that of the band’s better tunes: shuffling, swerving, and slyly (no longer sneeringly) assured. “Hemingway” shifts to a skiffle sound, and an acoustic, jangling take in a singalong, if melancholy, take on love. Characteristically, the lyrics show “I’ve got a gun, gonna shoot someone for fun”, at odds as often when Chadwick plays off his morose verses against the band’s sprightliness.
The title track follows this pastoral saunter. It doesn’t go anywhere startling, but it’s a pleasant journey. As the most of this album itself, it prefers to amble along while the band’s past career found it edging, with Bickers’ intricate guitar patterns, into more threatening territory. The polite production here settles the listener into the band’s calmer delivery.
“PKR” presses the point home more insistently, with Evans’ percussion moving the propulsive patterns along with more energy. Held back, however, in reserve, as the House of Love works best when alternating between tension and release. It’s over, as many songs on this brief album, without fully exploring the space the song structure suggests.
Therefore, “Lost in the Blues” appropriately replicates this predicament. “You just can’t get close/ To the one you really love” expresses the longing in Chadwick’s songs, revealed by the band’s respectable but very proper British fidelity to a reserved articulation of frustration.
My favorite of the band’s albums is the Fontana label release with the butterfly cover (one of those self-titled, chronicling the period when Bickers would leave the band). “Long Lost Heart” in its brush drums and chordal progression over a slightly exotic beat recalls this period, if without that 1990 record’s thunderous Stephen Hague production. I presume a smaller budget means more modest ambitions in the studio, but this song holds up well enough against its more plush predecessors.
That late ‘80s/early ‘90s college rock era meant a distinctive Britpop sound for many radio stations, and “Money Man” turns to that dependable matching of hummable melodies with a slightly more assertive musical underpinning. Still, the chord progression reminds me of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” when it probably meant to follow in the footsteps of a lighter John Lennon ditty. “Trouble in Mind” also could fit for many a star of the ‘60s on a solo ‘70s LP. Its dabs of female backing vocals highlight the perspective of self-reflection after indulgence: “Were you stoned when you said… the only trouble here is in your mind?”
The track sequence by number nine needs a shake-up. “Never Again” features more of this album’s acoustic-electric guitar mix, but the move to a catchier riff (resembling Robyn Hitchcock’s own revivalism of late ‘60s songcraft) reminds me of a lost Kinks one-off from, say, Face to Face. “Sunshine Out of the Rain” sounds like you’d expect. It may plod.
Tambourines open “Holy River” and the guitars of Chadwick and Bickers open up a more expansive soundstage, similar to the first track. This promises more adventure. The lyrics speak of wanting to get away and swim, but typically, the analogy turns back to the lover’s mind which the singer longs to enter. “Eye Dream” concludes in this same twirl into the self. Certainly, one expects more than a lull after hearing “touch the sky and say I am God, I am dead”. Like “Sunshine”, nearly all of this album feels circular. The songs do not take advantage of the chance to escape, but prefer to keep within safe sight of where they start.
I wish more of this album took chances, but in settling for stability, it may please maturer listeners. We all grow along with the bands we grew up with. the House of Love offers an album that will likely satisfy whatever quiet hopes its fans have kept safe for the band.
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