It’s been eight years since the House of Love last released an album. I had virtually wrote off any hope of hearing new material, despite ongoing reports that they were preparing new songs. The news late last year of a new album was the best Christmas present Porky could have got.
And I need to be thankful they didn’t sustain the time period between 1993’s Audience with The Mind and Days Run Away from 2005. The House of Love have, in some respects, been the favourite cousin to Porky over the years, accompanying him on his ascent to adulthood; She Paints Words in Red comes during the descent into middle age.
It was as a 17-year-old living in a humdrum town who’s contribution to music is limted to a member of the Average White Band, and a brief mention in an Everything But the Girl album track, that I first heard HoL, on John Peel naturally enough, when he put on Plastic a B-side to Real Animal but which was the equal, if not the better, to its more feted partner. If you want a potted history, check a previous post https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/?s=house+of+love
She Paints Words In Red is their first for Cherry Red, which also released the 3-disk deluxe edition of their debut at the end of last year. They clearly have HoL’s interests at heart as that was a carefully-considered issue of a remarkable album.
It was with enormous anticipation that I put the CD on in the car, driving to work excited and fretting that it might be a massive letdown. Hopes were even higher after seeing the magnificent artwork, long-time HoL photographer Suzie Gibbons capturing some extraordinarily colourful and evocative images on her travels.
It begins, suitably, with a bust of guitars and Chadwick’s plaintive voice. He sings the key chorus low, but the words ‘stay away’ ring with authority – a firm but fair order. A Baby Got Back On It’s Feet is certainly a pleasing opener.
On Hemingway, Chadwick sounds like he’s always done on more sedate tracks, Leonard Cohen attempting to do The Clash. “I feel like Hemingway/ And I’ve got a gun/ I’m gonna shoot someone just for fun.” he sings menacingly in a way reminiscent of another gun-centric song from Days Run Away, Kit Carter.
The title track is a beautiful, melodic song that would have fitted snugly on Days Run Away, and it’s not too taxing, with just ten lines. The fourth, and the most surprisingly inclusion, is a reworking of Purple Killer Rose, now reduced to an abbreviation, PKR. This was the B-side of the 7” to 1991’s The Girl With the Loneliest Eyes. It’s included here, because Chadwick says, they didn’t do it justice first time, which listening back to it, I can concurr. He strained so hard on the words he almost sounded demented. On the 2013 version the Londoner is menacing without the eeriness, and Bickers, Matt Jury and Pete Evans play harder. It is a perfect addition to She Paints Words In Red, but wouldn’t have fitted in on their Fontana albums.
Lost In the Blues begins with some masterly Chadwick words: “Tears that lie on my face/ don’t show the thorn in my mind,” but, nevertheless, is a relatively non-descript folk-ish track. Low Black Clouds is on the same railroad, a melancholic yet appealing number with brilliant guitar work.
The band strike up on Money Man, letting loose with a barrage of guitars and drums. The mood dips on the following track Trouble In Mind, with Chadwick becoming the singer-songwriter he’d occasionally threatened to be, only for that image to be momentarily canned by the uplifting chorus. If there’s a weak link to the album this is it.
Thankfully, the pace, and quality, picks up immediately as Never Again rattles on at full pelt. It continues the band’s obsession with firearms as the frontman asks for “a penny for your thoughts and a big white pill/ or a gin and a gun or a bag to fill.” It’s so mesmerising and captivating I feel obliged to press the rewind button a few times. That trick usually puts a dampner on the next track as it has high heights to reach, but Sunshine Out Of The Rain is as dreamy as its title would suggest. Now I feel the House of Love are really hitting their stride, and I’m reminiscing of the times I would rush to a city 40 miles away to get a new 12” single or album. It isn’t quite meant to be like this with the best being saved for last. The lyrics are enlightening and etheral on Holy River, as the chorus reaches one crescendo, then another and doesn’t let go until we hit 3:57. It feels like 1989 again, playing Safe and I Don’t Know Why I Love You over and over in my bedroom.
And to top it off there’s Eye Dream which is as close to psychedelia as HoL will get complete with a brief snatch of reverb guitar. This would be ideal as a seven-inch B-side, not because of its quality (though HoL B-sides were of a high standard) but it is perhaps best appreciated on its ownsome, a track you can indulge in, outwith the more brazen tracks that’s preceeded it.
At this stage I’ve listened to the album five times, and the most recent one was where I delved the deepest. I still feel I can go deeper as I discover with each listen more subtleties, explore further into Chadwick’s mind and find the points where the band really sound like a fighting unit, ready to take on the world. And when you do that you always find ways where improvements could be made. There’s a couple of tracks I may have excluded if I had any inlfuence at all, but it’s too late for all that.
She Paints Words In Red isn’t the assault on the senses their spiky debut was, nor is it alike any of the subsequent albums; it is it’s own man, a pleasant and joyful listen that for me is already one of the best albums of the year. It was always going to be, of course, unless they released an album of Justin Bieber covers. But, please Terry, Guy, Matt and Pete, don’t take nearly another decade to get into the recording studio.