By the time opener ‘Christine’ fades, a terrible injustice is apparent. How, in a world where The House of Love existed, did Oasis become the most famous band on Creation Records? This stylish three-disc reissue fails to answer that question but is, in every other respect, a triumph.
To be fair to Alan McGee, Creation only released the House of Love’s eponymous debut, which is repackaged here along with two discs of B-sides, rarities, demos and live cuts. But on the basis of this one album the London-based outfit led by songwriter/vocalist Guy Chadwick were a far better thing than their all-conquering MOR successors. Nor do te House of Love’s subsequent hard-drinking, drug-guzzling, member-shedding antics while on Fontana diminish in any way its luminous musical legacy.
The House of Love came together as the result of a ‘Melody Maker’ ad, and Chadwick’s ambition to create a band that sounded a bit like the Velvet Underground. According to the excellent liner notes in this release Chadwick was consciously aiming for the 60’s sound embodied by the Beatles, the Doors, and Love. There is a certain style on many of these tracks that suggests the heady days of early pop, especially cuts like debut single ‘Shine On’, which boasts vocal support from Andrea Heukamp; the shimmying ‘Destroy the Heart’, and the referential ‘Loneliness is a Gun’.
What jumps out to a modern listener, however, is a skein of musical relationships including ear-pleasing parallels with contemporaries Echo & The Bunnymen (‘Happy’ – a song Chadwick calls the only good thing to come out of a wrecked marriage) and the Jesus & Mary Chain (‘Flow’, ‘Happy’). Perhaps more significant is the debt owed the House of Love by the likes of Editors and Interpol, who echo the elder band’s rather dark slice-of-life lyrical preoccupations and driving sonic structures.
Part of the bittersweet splendour of the House of Love is that that this stellar, splendid debut catapulted them towards fame and catastrophe at equal velocities. McGee is quoted in the liner notes saying: “I loved them and was gutted that they never stayed on Creation. For one year they could have taken on anybody live.”
These days a band riding high on a fabulous debut would be swaddled in contracts and management, barricaded behind a fortress of publicity, and protected from the hazards of success. Twenty-odd years ago, though, the House of Love was free to freefall, which lends these songs a certain poignancy.
It is cause for celebration that the House of Love reformed and recently announced they have completed, mixed and mastered a new album. But before you listen to anything new, buy this and appreciate where it all began.