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Step Inside This House  The overlooked majesty of The House of Love

Step Inside This House

The overlooked majesty of The House of Love

by Jay Lewis, Reviews Editor
first published: September, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

Here was a band in their confident, reverberating and slightly surreal element. What could possibly go wrong?

The House of Love (AKA Butterfly)  favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite

Babe Rainbow  favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite_border

Audience With The Mind  favoritefavoritefavorite_borderfavorite_borderfavorite_border

(Proper Records)

On reflection, it was the end of an era.  

Time was being called on all of those inward-looking, moody and mysterious, intense guitar bands.  Those melancholy (mostly) four piece ensembles would soon be usurped by dancier music by bands in brighter coloured clothes but who somehow lacked the same depth and drama that we'd become accustomed to. 

In 1988, The House of Love were part of that glorious last hurrah of guitar bands, they worked from a template of 60's psychedelic rock, but with a post-punk, post-Bunnymen, post-Chameleons (the most obvious comparisons) update. And with the added kudos of being signed to Creation when it still felt like a home for such jangly oddities.

At the core of The House of Love was singer-songwriter Guy Chadwick and guitarist Terry Bickers, their splendid synergy can be heard on the delicate and desolate single 'Christine' and the furious 'Destroy the Heart' (number one in that year's Festive Fifty on John Peel's radio show). Their debut album showed a band in their confident, reverberating, and slightly surreal element. What could possibly go wrong? 

These three re-issued albums on heavy-weight vinyl ('The House of Love' aka 'Butterfly', 'Babe Rainbow', and 'Audience With The Mind') tell the tale of what happened next and how the band came to make some of their best music when interest in them was waning. After leaving Creation for a major label (Fontana, part of the PolyGram group,  Chadwick would later describe signing with them as the worst decision the band ever made), the lackluster response to 'Never' - the first single from the forthcoming album should have been an omen of the ills to come. Added to this, there were tales of an entire album's worth of material being scrapped and then, on the verge of the finished record's release, Bickers acrimoniously departed the band. Like Suede's exquisite 'Dog Man Star' a few years later, the news of the sudden change in band personnel overshadowed the music. 

When it did arrive 'The House of Love' (1990) was a rich, textured, and meticulously assembled record. Despite the aforementioned tensions (they also worked their way through four producers), this is a band showing great sonic synergy. The only time that the band ever bothered the charts was with the emboldened re-recording of early favourite 'Shine On' and 'Beatles and Stones'. The latter was such a breathtaking production that it took me ages to realize just how clumsy the 'put the V in Vietman' line was. The album has endured well and whilst 'Hedonist' and 'In A Room' reflect the urgency of their earlier sound, there is much on 'The House of Love' that shows the band expanding their musical palette, finessing their sound. 

The departure of Bickers prompted The House of Love to rethink and reset. With new guitarist Simon Walker, the band would produce one of their best (although most widely ignored), albums: 'Babe Rainbow' (1992). Album opener and single 'You Don't Understand' shows the recalibrated band at their most boisterous and urgent form. I came even hear hand claps! 

Although 'Crush Me' and 'The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes' revisit their more melancholic tendencies, 'Cruel' introduces tabla and a gentle nod in the direction of George Harrison, it's their most musically adventurous moment. By contrast, the acoustic-only 'Fade Away' is tender and aching. At nearly six minutes 'Burn Down The World' does overstay it's welcome and only 'Phillyphile' sounds like it would be more suited to life as a b-side. But they're minor quibbles on an otherwise flawless album. 

The same can not be said for 'Audience With The Mind' (1993) which, in an apparent reaction to their reputation for taking ages to produce a record, was assembled in a fortnight. There is no polite way to say this, but it is a huge disappointment. After the sparkle of opener 'Sweet Anatomy' (a revised B-side), there is little to recommend here although 'Call Me' has the fury and anguish of their debut, and 'Haloes' is the closest the album gets to the melodic delights of its two predecessors. Bassist Chris Groothuizen takes on songwriting and vocal duties on 'Erosion' and 'Hollow', which have their naive charm but, well, it's not like The House of Love really. 'Shining On' is as desperate as the title implies and sprawling eight minutes 'Into The Tunnel' is at least twice as long as it needs to be.  It's exhausting. 

With the decision to not tour the record, to choose to not release a single or undertake any press interviews, It felt like The House of Love were keen to bury 'Audience With The Mind' (there's also the dismal sleeve that looks utterly unlike anything they ever released before). The back sleeve photograph showed the band reduced to a trio (Simon Walker had walked), they look awkward, as if they know that this is the end. 'Audience With The Mind'  was a poor way to say goodbye. 

The House of Love have, true to form, been slow to make further music. And then some.  It would be twelve years before Bickers and Chadwick would finally bury the hatchet and get together for 'Days Run Away' and another eight for 'She Paints The World in Red'.   Last year Chadwick and his refurbished House of Love finally re-emerged... with that fresh in the memory, it may be an ideal time to explore those much undervalued earlier albums, so go ahead, and step inside this house. 

Jay Lewis
Reviews Editor

Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based poet. He's also a music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.

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