The acrimonious split between Guy Chadwick and Terry Bickers was one of the worst in rock and roll history. Not only did Guy kick Terry out of the band, he actually kicked him out of the back of a moving van. People thought there was no chance in hell that they'd ever get back together. Well, people thought wrong.
First, a few corrections.
1) No, not everyone thinks that the first House of Love album is the best. That album has some fantastic stuff, as was the case with a lot of their Creation output. But in my book, the second self titled full length album, often referred to as "The Butterfly Album" or "Fontana," is superior. It's one of my favorite albums ever, and I probably have over 1,000 at this point.
On that album, you've got "The Beatles and the Stones," "Shake and Crawl," "I Don't Know Why I Love You," "Someone's Got to Love You," "In a Room," "Blind," and "Se Dest."
Of those songs, only "I Don't Know Why I Love You" is the only one with bombastic production values. It's a huge anthem in this version, but to get the subtleties of the structure, listen to Ivy's beautiful acoustic cover. It was basically designed to work as a great hit pop song, and it was enough to suck me in when I first heard it on the unfortunately now defunct "progressive" "college" pre-"alternative" WHFS radio station in Washington, D.C.
The rest of my favorites off the album have some of the absolutely clearest production I've ever heard. Yes, they've got lots of layers and interesting guitar effects here and there, but otherwise, I've never heard such attention to detail anywhere in music. On most of these tracks, you can hear every tap and brush on the drums and every subtle, delicate, intricate guitar pattern. Much more stripped down than most of their earlier stuff. Most of it is slow and quiet. "In a Room" with its apt repeated lyrics "I can't slow down" is one of the most infectious and energetic up tempo songs I've ever heard.
2) It was not the record company that changed their sound. It was Guy Chadwick and his perfectionism. In this period, Chadwick was almost as bad as Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. It took them 2 or 3 years to put that album out. I'm sure a record company would have wanted them to put an album out as fast as possible. And before settling on that album, they had an entire album's worth of mostly great stuff. That material, released as an outtakes album called "A Spy in the House of Love," is more stripped down than the Butterfly one.
From Butterfly/Fontana, the band did become more and more processed, with sometimes bloated studio trickery. Even so, they put out some beautiful stuff like "The Girl with the Loneliest Eyes" and, one of my favorites, "Burn Down the World" and their cover of The Chill's "Pink Frost" on their later releases.
I didn't even know about their first album until about seven years after their second album came out. Of that material, "Christine," "Hope," "Destroy the Heart," "Love in a Car," "On the Hill," and "Loneliness is a Gun" are fantastic songs. It's great to listen how they kind of started out as a Jesus and Mary Chain-like band on songs like "Christine" and "Destroy the Heart" and then evolved into their own sounds. But, maybe because I heard the newer versions first, I don't think the original versions of "Shine On," "Hedonist," and "Blind" aren't as good as the later Fontana/Butterfly versions.
Except for "Christine," "On the Hill," and "Destroy the Heart" and some others, these songs sound like they could have been without Terry in the first place. If you listen to later House of Love things, you'll hear many of the same guitar details. I don't know why people tend to completely discount Chadwick's own guitar virtuosity.
The centerpiece of all this material has always been Chadwick's terrific songwriting. Out of all the House of Love's original genre mates such as Echo and the Bunnymen and The Jesus and Mary Chain, none captured the spirit of earlier rock and roll as well as they do. Chadwick's a master pop song crafter in league with Lennon/McCartney, Brian Wilson, and Lou Reid. And that song craft continued even into the more psychedelic studio noodlings on "Audience with the Mind." Other than Butterfly/Fontana, nothing has highlighted his songwriting as much as Chadwick's solo album "Lazy, Soft, and Slow." That album's title is fitting, as it has some of the quietest and gentlest songs I've ever heard.
Ok, finally on to this particular album:
There's some great stuff on here, and it continues to grow on me. Unlike what others have said, there is hardly anything at all on this album that screams to me "yeah, that's Terry playing now." Most of this album sounds like it could have been done without him. Most of it sounds like it's an extension of Chadwick's solo album, with it's rather acoustic stripped down sounds. The only songs on here that say to me that it's probably Terry playing are "Maybe You Know," "Money and Time," and "Already Gone." Those and more are some great songs, with "Money and Time" being one of the best House of Love songs I've ever heard. "Other than some Terry tones, it could fit right on Butterfly/Fontana or "A Spy in the House of Love." Money and Time" revisits the soft/loud/soft song structure used previously to great effect on songs like "Hope" and "Se Dest," a structure few bands have ever done as well as HOL has. It's taken a long time for "Love You Too Much" to grow on me. It sounded for a while that they were trying too hard for a catchy pop song, but the mounting guitar and vocal tension near the end of the song saves it.
This is not the best House of Love album, but I think it's at least #1 or #2 of the stuff that's still readily available for sale. It's a shame that Amazon doesn't even list Butterfly Fontana. The double disk "Fontana Years" album looks strange to me. Songs I either don't know or don't think are that great replace some of the best from the Butterfly album. While you can't get Butterfly/Fontana on Amazon, you can try to look it up on half.com or gemm.com. It's definitely worth checking out, as it might be one of my top ten of desert island disks.