Formed in London in 1986, The House of Love were one of the most respected and revered bands of the late 80s and early 90s. Starting their career on Creation, at a time when the label wasn’t really big enough to take bands like The House of Love into the charts, they signed to a major in 1989 and chart success soon followed. This impressive box set takes us through that period and leaves no stone unturned. This is a mightily impressive collection and fans new and old should cherish it. Starting with their self titled 1990 album before moving on to Babe Rainbow (1992), Audience With The Mind (1993) and a whole host of studio and live extras across eight discs, with over 130 tracks included.
When The House of Love signed to Fontana, they were not alone as Fontana had also signed the resurgent James and The Fall, who were at one of their creative peaks. The debut major label album was released in 1990, within weeks of Extricate from The Fall and Gold Mother from James. Fontana was arguably, on the surface at least, the best major label at the start of the 90s. The members of The House of Love would disagree with that now as they felt that the label effectively ended their career. Leader Guy Chadwick discusses this in the extensive sleeve notes provided in the box set.
Many House of Love records were simply called The House of Love; the Fontana debut is often referred to as the Butterfly album because of its sleeve. The Fontana debut for me surpassed those earlier Creation releases - maybe because of bigger and better budgets and studios; Never, I Don’t Know Why I Love You, and Beatles And The Stones are just some examples of the strength of the first album. Guy and the band wrote great pop songs. Whilst they were compared to bands like The Stone Roses at the time, The House of Love were far, far more prolific songwriters as this compilation is testament to.
It wasn’t all big songs though. There was a great dynamic to the band. Their softer side showed on songs like Somebody’s Got To Love You, which is almost acoustic with some subtle stripped back guitars and drums. And, just when you think the LP has peaked and surely they haven’t got anything else to give, along comes In A Room, ramping up the pace and delivering Guy’s strongest vocal on the album.
The extra tracks are way more than fillers on this box set and are both valuable and insightful additions. The first disc has six album demos including Never, Beatles And The Stones and In A Room - three of the standout tracks on this first disc. They are more than just demos and deserve your full attention. In A Room is almost like a new song compared to the album version - The House of Love go country! It actually works though.
Disc two presents an album released thirty years ago, almost to the day, and my most played record of that year, Babe Rainbow. Babe Rainbow is easily my favourite House of Love album. From the opening of You Don’t Understand through to Yer Eyes, Babe Rainbow for me is The House of Love at their very best. You Don’t Understand is an upbeat, fast paced classic, subtly underpinned by a Hammond organ, giving a nod to the more alternative side of the 60s, and featuring a commanding lead vocal from Guy Chadwick. Crush Me slows things down a little before the epic psych rock of Cruel takes over. Simon Walker’s guitar parts are sublime. This is the only House of Love studio album to feature Simon Walker, who had replaced Terry Bickers as lead guitarist at the end of 1989 and would himself leave the band in mid-1992, to be replaced by Simon Mawby (Bickers would return to the fold much, much later to further acclaim).
Fade Away is an acoustic ballad before the pace is ramped up again with Feel. Possibly the highlight of the album with great upbeat drums, vocal interplay and a strong chorus. Although the band were not at their happiest at those times, they still produced the most uplifting music. The emotive Girl With The Loneliest Eyes opens with some beautiful guitars and perhaps Guy’s best vocal on the album. A stunning song now, 30 years after it was written. Burn Down The World changes the mood of the album and shows Guy at his most reflective. The darkest track on the album, filled with layers of guitars and percussion, the production is outstanding.
Like the first disc, the bonus tracks here are essential listening. Presented here are 4 reference mixes, recorded at Eel Pie Studios. The reference mix for Cruel strips the song down a little but loses none of its power. There’s an Eastern / George Harrison influence running through it. I’d happily listen to more out takes from this era. I was lucky enough to catch the band play an incredible gig at King Tuts Wah Wah Hut on this tour and if I had one criticism of this massive box set, then it is that a recording from the UK Babe Rainbow tour isn’t included (although we do get some late ‘92 live tracks on disc eight).
Disc three showcases the 1993 album Audience With The Mind which I must admit I rarely listened to - the reason being that Babe Rainbow was such a favourite. Opening with Sweet Anatomy, there was a clear shift in sound from the summery pop of its predecessor.
Sweet Anatomy was written by drummer Pete Evans and is much harder than previous House of Love material and signalled a new direction for the band. Guy Chadwick recorded almost all of the album’s guitars himself and the band split not long after its release (they’d reform to further acclaim in 2005, releasing new material as well as touring regularly).
The title track is presented acoustically before Haloes and a sound much more reminiscent of their Fontana debut, as was Call Me; although one of the most powerful songs on the album, it was also a little bit House-Of-Love-by-numbers and looking back, you can see that perhaps the end of the road was near for the band who, during their Fontana years worked tirelessly, on a never ending cycle of write, record, promote, tour - ad infinitum.
Bassist Chris Groothuizen penned two songs for the LP, the first of which was Erosion - and for me is one of the album’s highlights. Shining On gives a nod to the most famous House of Love song and is the lightest, popiest moment on the record. Hollow on the other hand has much more swagger and is the second Groothuizen composition. It predates the sound John Squire would conjure up for the Stone Roses Second Coming.
There are only two bonus tracks on this disc but the unreleased Train Song is a real highlight and is classic, reflective, soulful Chadwick. The alternate take of Into The Tunnel is another slice of psychedelia and runs to over eleven minutes. A cliché, but these bonus tracks are worth the price of the disc alone!
Although Audience With The Mind was the end of the road for the band, it still has some beautifully crafted songs. Perhaps it was to be expected that the band folded. Their schedule was too much and they didn’t enjoy the pressures of being on a major label although that doesn’t really show on the recordings presented here.
The three discs that followed are compilations and begin with the 1990 Spy In The House of Love mid-price LP, put together by Fontana, of unreleased and B-side tracks after the release of the Butterfly album. It was one of Fontana’s many methods to keep up the profile of the band (it was also common for the label to release every single in a variety of special edition formats - the band loathed this though).
The compilation album theme is expanded here and we get three volumes of The Spy In The House of Love in the box set. On the first volume, it’s B-sides Safe, Soft As Fire, and Cut The Fool Down which are the highlights. The House of Love, like stablemates James, didn’t really knock out B-sides just to fill a side of vinyl and the songs presented here are worthy of your attention in their own right. We can hear their more experimental side too on tracks like Love II. In truth, Spy In The House of Love is more of an album than a filler/compilation and should be treated more as the follow up to the Butterfly album. This edition closes with live reductions of some of their biggest songs for Creation - debut single Destroy The Heart, Christine and Man To Child. The stunning version of Christine is a timeless classic and a welcome addition to the disc.
Spy In The House of Love part two features more hidden gems, including another storming version of Safe. Secrets and Phone are other stripped back, acoustic songs which allow the listener to marvel at the stunning guitar and puts Guy’s voice centre stage.
The Velvet Underground were widely regarded as the biggest influence on The House of Love and their cover of I Can’t Stand It is faithful to the original but still allowing The House of Love to give it their own stamp. On listening to these compilation discs, it is evident that songs such as Marble were far too good for B-sides. The 12” mix of Never is another welcome addition, featuring Pete Evans’ commanding percussion and Chadwick’s anthemic vocal. Another timeless classic, as is the 7” mix of I Don’t Know Why I Love You presented here. A perfect three minute Beatlesesque pop song.
Talking of The Beatles, disc three of the Spy In The House of Love begins with a spirited and uplifting take on psychedelic Beatles classic It’s All Too Much, which the band issued as the b-side to Feel. Stunning. Perhaps the band were trying to tell Fontana that is was indeed all too much but the band continued, barely stopping for breath.
It’s All Too Much is followed by another cover from the Feel EP, the Cream classic Strange Brew. As alluded to earlier, the tracks on this disc stem from my favourite period of The House of Love. The quality of the b-sides from this era were so strong that Babe Rainbow could have easily have been an accomplished double album. Third Generation Liquid Song, from the You Don’t Understand single and The Last Edition of Love from the Crush Me single prove this point.
The third disc features a host of acoustic tracks, recorded live in 1992, of their best known songs including Shine On, Hannah, Hope and I Don’t Know Why I Love You, as well as tracks from Babe Rainbow. The inclusion here of these ultra rare tracks is most welcome as they were only ever issued with French magazine Les Inrockuptibles. Chadwick’s favourite House of Love song, The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes, is presented here and is perhaps the definitive recording.
The box set could conclude here but we still get two discs worth of live material. Firstly, there’s a full show from Leicester on the 1990 tour and finally disc eight concludes with 1991 and 1992 recordings. The Leicester recording is stunning, capturing the band at their peak and understandably heavily features the Butterfly album. Opening with an extended Hannah, and some fine improvisation from guitarist Simon Walker this recording demonstrates what a great live band The House of Love were, highlighted on In A Room with this live rendition easily surpassing the studio recording. The Beatles and the Stones, their single at the time of this gig, is slowed down and features one of the band’s best guitar riffs. Hope is another standout track from this set, again surpassing the studio version. Shine On, their biggest hit, shows how tight the band are and is adored by the crowd, as is a spirited Christine with a pounding bass line from Chris.
The final disc draws on live material from 1991 and 1992. The first three tracks are taken from an abandoned video release. Of the three, Phone is the standout track and it’s a shame that this project never saw the light of day. The band would finally release a full live video in 2014 (Live at The Lexington). The 1992 material comes from a New York show in November, focusing on Babe Rainbow material and sounds incredible. Opening with a stunningly euphoric High In Your Face, the band are on top form, just as I remember them sounding in 1992. You Don’t Understand is another high octane number before an impassioned Burn Down The World. The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes is slowed down slightly and benefits from an experimental, improvised Chris bassline. Cruel is on another level. A stunning live document.
It’s hard to believe that all this material was recorded in just a four year period. This is an outstanding collection of material, reminding us what a great band The House of Love were and indeed are - Guy has a new line up and UK and US tours for later this year and a new album to boot.
There may well be some fans crying out for a vinyl release of this set but it is far, far too long to press a vinyl version. Buy the CDs and enjoy. I doubt very much that this box set will be bettered this year. An absolute treasure chest.
We reviewed their previous box set which covers the Creation era here
They have a new album State Of Grace on September 16 and tour to coincide with it playing "the new album and the classics" at Oxford O2 Academy 2 (September 12), Bedford Esquires (13), Birmingham Academy 2 (14), Liverpool Academy 2 (16), Glasgow Room 2 (17), Huddersfield Parish (18), Nottingham Rescue Rooms (19), Manchester Academy 3 (21), Bristol Thekla (22), Brighton Concorde 2 (23) and London Garage (25) before heading to the US in October playing Philadelphia Underground Arts (13), New York Gramercy Theatre (14), Boston Brighton Music Hall (17), Montreal The Fairmount Theatre (18), Toronto Lee's Palace (19), Detroit The Magic Bag (22), Chicago Lincoln Hall (23), San Francisco The Chapel (25), Sacramento Harlow's (26), Los Angeles Regent Theatre (29) and Pioneertown Pappy And Harriet's (30).