❉ We pore over the super-deluxe anniversary edition of The House of Love’s tremendous debut album in all its beautiful, brooding, spiritual glory.
“Sometimes to luxuriate in the comfortable and brain-constricting world of nostalgia isn’t quite so debilitating, and House of Love holds up just fine after thirty years. Cherry Red’s thirtieth anniversary five-disc celebration of The House of Love’s eponymous debut album is everything you would expect from this wonderful celebratory record label.”
I don’t listen to much ‘old stuff’ these days – what with a full-time, seemingly round-the-clock job to manage and with me taking the first tentative steps on what looks like a very promising burlesque career, there is little time to wallow in the past, and listen to classic albums, or – more importantly – to luxuriate in the comfortable and brain-constricting world of nostalgia.
Sure, I pour over my photos on my phone with happiness and wistfulness and the myriad memories that flit through my mind are analysed, praised and traduced just like ever other neurotic I’ve loved and admired and fought with over the years.
But music? Nothing is worse for increasing the ageing process or the descent into intellectual torpor than ‘comfortable’ or ‘nice’ or remembering the good old days and never letting them go.
There’s a great scene in Season* 6 of The Sopranos where Jersey wiseguys (they’re from St Helier) Paulie Walnuts and Phil are reminiscing about something enjoyable and horrible from their enjoyable and horrible past. Their faces light up with the recognition of good times and their horrid, hoodlum faces light up as they go into gory detail to impress their dumbass restaurant guests.
As they prattle on and embiggen their rancid tale, Tony Soprano looks on with pained expression, and it’s a masterclass of genius eye/soul acting from the finest of all TV actors.
When Paulie finally asks him what’s wrong, and why he doesn’t want to take part in their shared memories, Tony replies: “Because remember when is the lowest form of conversation.”
Not only is Tony hinting at the dangers of publicly admitting crimes, he is trying to say that the past is the past, and only the stupid try to replicate that which has elapsed.
He’s also – of course – casting aspersions on Showaddywaddy’s classic number 16 hit from the summer of 1979.
Now I’m not so ‘pure’ that I don’t listen to old music. As I type, I’m looking at a stack of vinyl a mile long (what a shit cataloguing system I have!), I enjoy the odd oldie on Radio 6 (particularly Marc Riley who is both old and odd) and not a day goes by without some David Bowie. But I never cast my head to one side and go ‘ahhh’, I don’t sit round in the pink and black pirate kecks of my misspent youth and even if I had the time, I’d much rather be listening to something new than revisiting the past.
But every so often, in this air is blown away and the thought comes that in some Caesar’s years, in Calabria … another pop fan, quite differently dressed, heard the same complaint, and you listen to an album that you’ve revisited for sundry purposes, and you’re taken back to that behind your eyes world of your youth, and like Lester Burnham (Spacey – why did you have to spoil my memories, you dirty, dirty bastard) and you realise that the world of flipping burgers and eight tracks and posters of tennis players scratching their arses we’re OK because that was then and you just couldn’t objectify whilst you were living that life. I might be different to many because I think I knew it then, but I definitely know how to do it now.
And that album? The House of Love’s eponymous debut album.
It’s just… beautiful.
Cherry Red’s thirtieth anniversary five-disc celebration of the album’s debut is (probably) everything you would expect from this wonderful celebratory company, and as I’ve said before there are a number of their DC re-releases (Scared to get Happy, Alternative Liverpool) that I’ve been unable to open because, well, they’re just TOO beautiful, and are up there on my bookshelf (yes) because like Nigel Tufnel’s special guitar, you’re not even allowed to look at them.
The House of Love made their big breakthrough in 1988, although they had been big favourites of mine for a good year or so before this, and I was sort of pleased and sort of upset when one of ‘my’ bands became known by everyone. It’s a well-worn story as bands go – drugs, arguments, a big fallout between main men Guy Chambers and Terry Vickers; ego problems, more drugs and diminishing returns put paid to the band in the early nineties. The emergence of acid house and the planet-engulfing (if the UK is a planet, that is) success of The Stone Roses and ultimately the triumph of grunge left the chiming, charming and very English sound of the House of Love sounding very last year’s/decade’s thing.
But I loved that first album, and though it would have to be the return of Jesus* to make my mind about autographs, I was made up to have bought my original copy with the band’s names in all of the right places (I think so anyway, although I can now hear the record store manager saying to a minion: “What have I told you? Guy doesn’t do hearts, you tit!”
So, House of Love, then. Opener Christine is still brilliant. I don’t know if it’s from the school of Girl’s Name + Angst/Twaddle/Yearning school of writing, but it was and is my favourite House of Love song with lyrics that sound poetic within the running time of the song, but sound a bit like Stephen Fry as the Headmaster telling off rebellious schoolboy Hugh Laurie and criticising his love of the ‘Derek’ Bowie lyrics in that brilliant Fry and Laurie sketch:
And the whole world dragged us down,
Not a sonnet, not a sound;
And the whole world turned aside,
The cruellest hand just turned an eye.
Which is ace as a singalong, but not so good as a fish out of water. But there’s something urgent about that song and you can sense the angst of the writer and the communication of a shared experience of yearning that I never got from the much lauded roses.
Hope (track two always threw me) because it sounds a little bit like early U2 – the vocals are particularly Bono-esque, and again is another spiritual, brooding song that grows into its life affirming song
Track three Road, I always found particularly sad as singer Guy Chadwick was often criticised for not being – let’s say – a little jolie laide in comparison to his contemporaries, and the opening lines:
Who’s that boy, always on his own
Let’s ignore him, he’s ugly, no one’s song
Check that mind, so relaxed and pure, in honesty
Boy, just watch your jaw
Always seemed so very sad.
And I remember a particularly cruel heckle (heckling pop stars???) when Guy went off-subject and started discussing the strangeness of my city in between songs at the Liverpool Royal Court all those years ago. I know there’s a fine tradition for this in rock history, but – like talking loudly and getting pissed at gigs – I just don’t get it. Unless the act turn out to be unbelievably rude or just plain shite.
Sulphur’s OK if you like opening riffs stolen from Honky Tonk Women (am I in a minority for not really liking The Stones, and preferring Dick Emery’s take on Honky Tonk), and side one closer Man to a Child is just beautiful in a sensitive new man sort of way, and (wonderfully) has a chorus apostrophe as the opening word invocation for each of its four lines:
Jesus, where did the time go?
Holy God, where is the money now?
Father, what am I doing here?
Mother, where is the love?
I love rhetorical devices, me.
The (not as good) side two opens with the upbeat and again religiously tinged Salome, which once again has some lovely, vaguely-metaphysical lyricism:
I’m walking on the sea
Salome is dead, the king is free
Oh not a man without greed
I’m sailing on the sea, back to me
But then the quality control is somewhat dissipated by the repeated ‘I love the way she cries’ refrain – repreated refrains are up there with la-la-la’s as far as I am concerned.
Still – a good song, and used to justify the act of me having to get off your very skinny (in those days) bottom to flip the album over. I now have a son/slave to do such errands: Joe – if you turn that album over, I’ll give you one pound fifty on your birthday,” has become a popular comedic staple of our household idiolect. It never fails. (Succeeds.)
Love in a Car is another track that sails to close to the Bono wind (I bet that’s not terribly pleasant). Happy, strangely enough is a bit miserable, and could easily (with a bit of tweaking) could have slipped into the next year’s Madchester mode, being a little Inspriral Carpets/James-y. Penultimate song Fisherman’s Tale is another song with Christian imagery despite its (admirable) chorus:
Deep blue eyes
Take me through my sleep
I believe in Jesus
I just don’t have belief
The album winds down with the downbeat Touch Me, another song imbued with vague hints of a past religious life trying to fight its way back into the songwriter’s psyche as love breaks down and traditional life guides seem false:
It’ll be right in a little while
When the night gets warmer
And the fingers searching
With the eyes of a little child
She treats me cold
So cruel and violent
And I cry
Why do you say that God
Takes the world upon his hands
And leads us through obscurity alone
Oh touch me, me
It’s hard to tell if the frequent allusions to Psalm 23 may be deliberate or just a subconscious preoccupation, but it’s a strong if somewhat subdued finale to a tremendous album.
Sometimes nostalgia isn’t quite so debilitating, and House of Love holds up just fine after thirty years and there were so many half-forgotten songs that evoked the Proustian rush of an autumn afternoon of a long-gone but still visible world of my youth.
Discs two to five are decent, but a mixed bag and essentially for the completist. Some of THOL’s (that doesn’t sound right, does it?) best known songs such as Shine On or the Peel Festive 50-topping Destroy the Heart (on Disc 2 – sound as good as ever).
The House of Love are active again and will be playing dates in the late autumn – I’m particularly looking forward to their Manchester Albert Hall gig, and it will be interesting to see if they live up to my ‘you’ve had your time, now do one dictum’ and I’m left with vague sense nausea instead of a quasi-amphetamine rush. Anything but a cosy glow, mind; the day that happens to me, you really can take me outside and shoot me. I’ll leave the letter.
* I love dropping random Americanisms into the conversation just to irk the stupid. Season instead of series, math instead of maths and best of all cupcake instead of linguistically pure ‘fairycake’. I haven’t eaten a f**king cupcake in 25 years, but I talk about them all the time.
❉ ‘The House Of Love: 30th Anniversary Edition’ is released September 28, 2018 as a five-disc hardback deluxe edition, from Cherry Red Records. Also available as a 2 Limited Edition Double Vinyl (2LP) .
❉ Stephen Porter has written for Esquire, Back Pass and a host of other publications. He is also an English teacher in the North of England.