Wow, the letter H proved a long-drawn out saga, as the lead-up to my month-long absence in Italy seriously curtailed by listening and blogging. But, after 35 reviews, here are the top 10 on my desert island list:
- Darren Hanlon – “Hello Stranger”
- PJ Harvey – “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”
- Ed Harcourt – “Here Be Monsters”
- The Hold Steady – “Separation Sunday”
- PJ Harvey – “Dry”
- The Housemartins – “Now That’s What I Call Quite Good”
- Darren Hanlon – “Little Chills”
- The Housemartins – “London 0 Hull 4”
- Hilltop Hoods – “The Hard Road”
- Hilltop Hoods – “The Calling”
Only six artists there, but a mix of sounds and styles that’d keep me happy while I constructed my coconut powered jet…
While in Europe last week, I purchased a rather natty cardigan from a certain Swedish multinational retailer with an acronym name resembling the moniker of this here act.
I blame this band and this album cover for my occasional forays into cardie-wearing. Paul Heaton makes it look so cool and sensible.
This debut has that sort of effect. Listening to this record, one would think that Northern Soul was always the most natural and obvious choice for delivering biting critiques of late ’80s Thatcherite Britain and its rising individualism and materialism.
I love the perverted pop sensibilities of these guys. They slyly compose’ catchy basslines (something Norman Cook took to the extreme in later guises), and seemingly innocuous lyrics and choruses, that at closer listening are biting and subversive. Of course, sometimes they make the message pretty clear:
Not surprisingly, this album doesn’t quite have the firepower of the greatest hits package, but if you see a copy anywhere grab it and listen hard. And seek out the vinyl version with the five extra tracks that aren’t even on the remastered re-release – it’s more soul covers, and that Caravan of Love curiosity:
File under: A hull of a time
Well, I’ve been ridculously tardy in getting to #399. It all started because, in the interests of temporal accuracy, I’d been holding out to listen to the Housemartin’s debut album on vinyl. But the opportunity didn’t arise, I got waylaid by other matters, and finally I’m back having lept forward to this “best of”.
The Housemartins were a bright shining light of the late-80s British music scene who faded too fast, but fueled some other acts already reviewed here.
Their schtick was one I found, and still find, irresistable. It’s all sugar-sweet whiteman soul, but with slyly sarcastic and biting lyrics.
Paul Heaton’s voice is pure pop gold, and the basslines keep many of the tracks bopping along. The band is also not afraid to get all a-capella on our asses, and to turn such barbershopping to soul standards.
The best tracks on here mock the British class system, the protestant work ethic, and everything you stand for… but in a way that your grandma would still might praise.
To make up for my slackness these past few weeks, and because these videos should be seen by all, here are three lesser known clips from the lads from Hull:
File under: An understatement
The work of Norman Cook (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim among many different recording aliases) was extremely hard to avoid in the late 1990s.
Along with fellow Brits The Chemical Brothers, he produced some of the biggest crossover dance floor fillers, building a huge following for the so-called ‘Big Beat’ sound.
I had a predilection for seeking Cook out, given his past life as bass player for the much under-rated Housemartins.
The similarity between that poppy outfit and his reincarnation as a DJ and pastiche artist rests on his innate knack for finding a very, very catchy hook. As Fatboy any subtlety is thrown out the window, as he beats us around the ears with ludicrously contagious catchphrases and musical riffs.
The singles on here are true benchmarks in commercially viable dance music, passing that test of working outside the club environs. The opening two tracks (Right Here, Right Now and Rockafeller Skank) are pretty irresistable:
The rest of the album doesn’t engage at the same level. Praise You is much less compelling without the video. Gangster Tripping comes closest to the gems, while too many of the others feel only marginally distinguished.
File under: The trip gets a little tiring
British popsters The Housemartins broke up well before their time and this was one of the spin-offs from the wreckage. So if the Housemartins = Happy Days, then these guys are the Laverne & Shirley (and Fatboy Slim might well be the Joanie loves Chachi or the Mork and Mindy).
This is the more mature , middle-of-the-road version of The Housemartins. Paul Heaton and co croon away backed by slick jazz-pop with a Bacharach-ish bent.
It is all a bit too sickly sweet for my liking, and typically over produced. The upside is the lyrical content which is decidedly cynical and, on occasions, downright nasty. If you don’t listen closely you might think they’re being all sugar and spice, but in reality these are songs about loss, misguided marriage, war etc. This sort of juxtaposition underlied the Housemartins’ appeal also.
Apart from owning their much better first single (Song for Whoever), I never did buy another Beautiful South album. That reflects my lack of connection with the sound. Now, it must be time for a Housemartins reunion tour…
File under: Soulful cynicism