She Paints Words in Red by The House of Love

The-House-of-Love-She-Paints-Words-in-Red

I will live the rest of my life forever ashamed that I was born in the 1980’s, generally a dreadful decade for music. It wasn’t all bad, of course, but the sheer number of musical acts buried by the reverb-and-echo orgy that dominated production values in that lost decade condemned the more talented and genuine artists like Chrissie Hynde, the Pixies and the Clash to the deeper recesses of the collective consciousness. It was the decade of the superficial egomaniacal showmanship of Michael Jackson, Madonna and U2, and “rock” became something safe performed by nice guys like Huey Lewis and The News. It was so bad that we needed a band as debilitated as Nirvana to come to the rescue and reacquaint us with raw, raucous sound.

I’ve noticed with some amazement that a lot of 80’s bands are attempting comebacks, and 80’s music fans are all atwitter. Depeche Mode and Duran Duran are almost in vogue again! My worst nightmare!

Given my aversion to anything 80’s, from Ronald Reagan to The Beastie Boys, I’m rather surprised that I’m reviewing the latest from The House of Love. I loathed their 80’s music, which seemed to combine the worst of faux psychedelia and 80’s gloss. They fell apart rather quickly, re-formed in 2005 (and event to which I paid no attention whatsoever) and have now released a new studio album, She Paints Words in Red. As I never allow bias to enter into the new release sampling process, I listened to the album samples on iTunes just like I would for any other artist. I also popped into their past for a quick refresh, and I did find that they had a gift for melody that I had overlooked, but the production still managed to remove any other signs of life out of their music.

Much to my surprise, I rather liked what I heard from the samples. I even believe that I allowed a tiny smile to take shape on my pretty little face. “What the fuck,” I said to myself, and navigated my way to Amazon to buy the CD (for a buck less than they charge on iTunes).

Doesn’t Apple have enough cash to be able to cut us a break?

Anyway, I did my usual thing and listened to the album three times in a row. Much to my surprise and delight, I liked every song on the album. I can’t even say that about Revolver! Now, She Paints Words in Red may not approach the artistic and influential power of that masterpiece, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a strong contender for my 2013 Favorite Albums list. Knock me down with a feather!

“A Baby Got Back on Its Feet” opens the album, an up-tempo song with great feel and melodic movement. Guy Chadwick may lack the depth and power of a great singer, but his timbre makes his vocals very appealing and, as he demonstrates throughout the album, he has surprising range across the octaves (with a little help from falsetto). Here his low-register vocal rides over various well-executed rhythmic shifts, and his opening lyrics grabbed me right away as an occasionally hyperactive insomniac:

And I’m rushing and I want to sleep
I think too much about the things that keep me all strung out
Lying in the night with my eyes wide open and the images screaming out

Little things often make or break a song, and I just love the way they extend the second line beyond the rhyme (sleep/keep), following the flow of the song instead of the rhyme scheme. Brilliant!

 

The next song, “Hemingway,” starts off completely anti-Hemingway with a happy go-lucky intro totally at odds with Hemingway’s bullfighting-bullshit machismo. The pleasant melody and breezy feel are also in complete contrast to the tension of a man who, having been beaten down by life (most likely by wage slavery), takes refuge in male mythology:

Well I feel just like Hemingway
And I’ve got a gun
Gonna shoot someone just for fun
So, show me those bulls honey
‘Cause I’ve just got to run
It’s time to go to sleep
It’s time, my love, to make ends meet
‘Cause I can’t stand of another minute
Creaking with the weight of it all.

With its hummable melody, light harmony and insightful lyrics, “Hemingway” is probably my favorite song on She Paints Words in Red. I didn’t think I’d like any of it and I already have a favorite after two songs!

With the help of falsetto and a willingness to go beyond the obvious note choices, the band expands the melodic range on the title track, a song with equally strong vocals and guitar interplay. Flowing beautifully in 12/8 time and featuring pretty but emphatic harmony, the song oddly enough combines elements of a jig and the Beach Boys . . . but however you want to describe it, “She Paints Words in Red” works. By contrast, “PKR” is dark and mysterious, a minor key song driven by an insistent rhythm like cha-cha without the rests. The best part of this track is the bashing instrumental passage that ends the song in what I’d call “Best of the 80’s” mode.

“Lost in the Blues” has more of a country waltz feel, enlivened by condensing the space between the lines in the verses to eliminate the extra measure you’d typically expect. An unusually witty love song, the occasional bits of woe-is-me humor fail to detract from the fundamental truth that nothing in life can ever replace the experience of closeness. It’s followed by “Low Black Clouds,” another minor key song with more strong harmonies and a rhythm that somehow manages to combine echoes of Latin and minstrel. “Money Man” comes next, again in a minor key, but this is more of a straight mid-tempo rocker where the narrator voices the common but no longer politically correct belief that a man can buy a woman’s dependence (if not love).

Wrong! Great song, though.

“Trouble in Mind” is a lovely example of British melodic pop, with an enchanting melody and a feel of dreaminess that echoes the story of a person who has lost his or her way in life (“Looking at your life, trying to find a picture, all you get are lines”). The pounding rhythm and sudden, satisfying hooks of “Never Again” make this song an excellent candidate for a single on an album that could probably produce quite a few. A good flip side would be “Sunshine in the Rain,” a ballad in the fine tradition of Gerry Marsden complete with major seventh chords, but with more mature adult content than “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.” I love the carnal simplicity of the lines, “She sees you . . . and she wants to . . . and she needs you . . . ‘cause she wants to.”

I call that “my zone!”

“Holy River” has great potential for a sing-along, with its almost gospel-like feel. What makes it more interesting than spending time in a pew on Sunday is a memorable guitar lick and a perfectly executed guitar solo from Terry Bickers. I’ll also mention that Pete Evans has been fabulous throughout this album on the drums, but here it’s his powerful beat that moves this number and gives it oomph. The album closes with the instantly addicting “Eye Dream,” where we return again to the insomniac semi-dream state theme of the opening cut. The harmony on the monosyllables (“sweet, soft, slow” and “dream, dream, dream”) is another wonderful demonstration of how the simple touches make all the difference.

So, here I am as the last notes fade into memory, feeling that I didn’t want this album to end. This is one time when I am both thoroughly delighted and surprised to say that. These guys have come a long way in the last twenty years, and I will be forever thankful that they made that journey.

I might even overcome my prejudices and re-connect with their earlier stuff. Wow!

 

11 responses

  1. Nice review. I would suggest you give the older stuff more of a chance. It is brilliant. You will need a minimum of your requisite three listens to each of those ablums too!

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    1. I shall indeed! Watch for a Classic Music Review soon! This was a growth experience for me. After all, I was only a know-it-all pre-teen when I formed that opinion. Time to let it go!

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  2. Jeez I love 80’s music, in particular the early post punk stuff! It wasn’t all swamped in reverb and hideous over-production. Still, glad to see you’ve warmed to HOL.

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    1. No, not all of it was bad, and I did say there were great artists relegated to niches while less deserving artists dominated the scene. I’m glad I warmed to HOL, too!

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  3. […] and today is already a record day for visits to the site. Thank you all! Special thanks to fans of The House of Love and MOIP, who flocked to the site to read those […]

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  4. […] send comments trying to convince me otherwise because I already went through that when I reviewed the 2013 release from The House of Love (which earned a Chick Recommendation, by the way). Let’s just say that 1980′s music, […]

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  5. […] The House of Love, She Paints Words in Red […]

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  6. […] The House of Love, She Paints Words in Red […]

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  7. Thanks for this review! This is one of those rare reunion albums that really does compare with the group’s best work, though I still think the butterfly album and Babe Rainbow have a special kind of power that can never quite be matched by an older band. Although you are a newcomer to the House of Love, you’ve listened to the lyrics more closely than I have. You had to because you reviewed it, and I appreciate your insights. With favorite albums I am often happy to just let the music wash over me without paying much attention to the words.

    I read your essay about reviewing new music, and I know exactly what you are talking about. I did a college radio show from 2013-2015, after being away from college radio for over 10 years. My assumption going into it was that I was going to get back into new music, and it would soon come to dominate my show. Instead, the opposite happened. I hated almost all of the new music I heard–and believe me, I tried–so I wound up delving more and more into the past. I could not find enough music to maintain the show at the level I wanted, though, so I threw in the towel after two years. The show was on late at night and nobody listened to it anyway, and there was no hope of moving to a better time slot.

    I played about half of the songs from this House of Love album on my show. It was a godsend. Good new music, but not a new artist. The radio show convinced me that I have simply lost the thread of new music–something that I hoped would never happen, but I have pretty much accepted it at this point.

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    1. Actually, I don’t think you’ve lost the thread at all—the thread has unraveled! Having followed new releases for the past 15 years, there’s no doubt in my mind that the quality of music and musicianship has declined dramatically, and songwriting in particular has taken a big hit. Good new releases are pretty rare. In the three or so years I did contemporary reviews I sampled over a thousand and found maybe thirty satisfying experiences, and maybe three to five blow-me-away experiences. It’s a combination of conformity imposed by the marketing plans of the big five record companies and on the indie side, the anybody-can-make-a-record phenomenon of recording software. The good indie musicians who don’t want to sell out to the majors have a very, very hard time getting noticed in the current climate.

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      1. So do you think there are good musicians out there who are not getting noticed? I’m more inclined to think that they just don’t exist, because if they did, they would at least find their way onto college radio. I scoured CMJ (College Music Journal), where I used to find good music in 1999-2001, and I came up empty. I didn’t do any better when searching the Internet. So I suspect that the thread of music that I like, which has its basis mostly in the sixties, has petered out entirely, except for some imitators who are not interesting. I’ve been hearing for a long time now that hip-hop is where the originality in pop music is, but I’ve never been able to relate to hip-hop, so I’m out of luck when it comes to new music.

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