Guy Chadwick’s fractious gang’s debut, now expanded – and at times, truly exhilarating…
The House Of Love always seemed a weird group for Creation Records to sign in 1987. At that time, the label was still suffering the slings and arrows of C86, and their roster was made up mostly of well-intentioned but underwhelming jangle-pop (Blow Up, label idée Alan McGee’s own Biff Bang Pow!, The Bodines) and the odd obscurant blast of welcome rock’n’roll (Slaughter Joe’s great “I’ll Follow You Down”, Nikki Sudden). So when The House Of Love’s first single, “Shine On”, dropped in May, a twisting, turning epic almost cast adrift in reverb, it seemed a little portentous and almost self-involved – a rock behemoth trying to struggle out of an indie pop caste.
The history was stranger still, with lead singer Guy Chadwick already having tried and failed at the music game with The Kingdoms, before going underground, finding the first line-up of The House Of Love through advertising in the music papers, sending a demo to Creation that McGee would initially give short shrift, until his then-wife started obsessively playing “Shine On”. Legend has it that Chadwick’s vaulting ambition alienated the group from some of the Creation crew, but McGee, possibly still smarting from the loss of The Jesus & Mary Chain, plotted The House Of Love’s career with svengali panache, ultimately hooking them up with an out-of-control deal with Fontana in 1989.
But if Chadwick’s songs were the bedrock of the group, then it was their lead guitarist, Terry Bickers, who gave the group their flammability, both on record and on stage. A perpetually shorting livewire, Bickers’ ecstatic playing could move from pre-shoegaze texturology to blasted anti-rock heroics with the flick of a reverb pedal. He was the magician-artisan of the group, and from the buzzing, solar flares of the opening notes of “Christine”, the first song on this, their 1988 debut album, you could tell that in many ways, the record was his – when Chadwick’s songs drop in quality, at least the guitars still sound fantastic.
Indeed, listening back to The House Of Love, you realize that the songs aren’t quite as potent as you might have remembered. Of course, a clutch are still staggering – “Christine”, of course; the beautiful poise of the closing “Touch Me”; “Love In A Car”’s tension-release dynamics and oddly Chameleons-esque guitar arpeggios; and most of all, the heartbreaking ballad “Man To Child” – but at times, Chadwick’s songs are undercooked, like the slight “Salome”, or “The Hill” from the “Christine” single. Sometimes, he goes the other direction, and courts a kind of arch, over-knowing prissiness. In many ways, the best of this era of The House Of Love is on the b-sides to the singles, compiled on the second disc – “Flow”, “Nothing To Me”, “Plastic” and “Blind” are all slippery, seductive pleasures, the first two all the better for Andrea Heukamp’s gorgeous backing vocals.
Heukamp was the first casualty of The House Of Love, leaving the group amicably in 1987. Bickers would exit, fractiously, in 1989, and with him, much of the alchemy of the first phase of The House Of Love. The better Chadwick’s songs got – and there’s a very real case to be made for some of his best songs coming later, with 1992’s “The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes” a particularly overlooked gem – the less he seemed capable of marshalling around him other musicians who could flesh things out with the electricity and tension of these formative line-ups. For most of their time, The House Of Love never quite got it right. But in 1988, for a brief window of under a year, they could have had it all. This debut album is the sound of potential that would remain, both frustratingly and tantalizingly, unrealised.
EXTRAS: Two discs, the first of which compiles their singles from the ‘Creation era’, the second featuring assorted demos and alternate versions. The singles are essential and sometimes superior to the album itself, the demos and versions somewhat less so… 7/10