As I’ve no doubt bored you about before, I’ve bought records for many reasons over the years – to impress chicks, because of nudity on the cover, to impress friends, because I liked that one song on the radio, because it had one of those stickers on promising swearing (thanks Tipper!), because I just NEED it!, because I’ve got all the other ones, because of more nudity on the cover – but The Heavy The House That Dirt Built was a definite first for me. I bought this 2009 LP last year because of a computer game. They use the song ‘Short Change Hero’ on the opening credits to one of my all-time fave games, Borderlands 2*. I just became obsessed with this perfect Spaghetti Western of a song and in customary 1537 fashion I leaped into action and got around to Googling it 6 months later – I know, I’m such an Alpha male.
All I knew before it arrived was that the band were from Bristol, they also did that excellent track ‘How You Like Me Now’ which, following in the time-hallowed tradition of Survivor and Bruce Springsteen they subsequently prevented Mitt Romney from using during the 2012 US election and that was about it. I heartily believe the drab cover could do with a good makeover and the inner sleeve collage of native Americans manages to be simultaneously inexplicable and a little dull, but The Heavy do get, umm, heavy kudos for pressing The House That Dirt Built onto vinyl so thick that I have no doubt at all it would stop a bullet.
Opening with a sample from the trailer for video-nasty Don’t Go In The House, the LP lurches into the discordant stop-start indie rock of ‘Oh No! Not You Again!’ which sounds more like indie bangers the Noisettes than anyone else I can think of, it’s okay but then the LP relaxes, undoes its collar button, takes a sip of something cold and hits the button marked ‘sublime’. ‘How You Like Me Now’ is such a wonderful track, it sounds like a better James Brown**, Kelvin Swaby’s voice is a wonderful instrument; light, strong, playful it really does have it all. This track swings and grooves, as well as having a little bite to the lyrics; in my eyes/ears it is a stone-cold classic and easily one of the best tracks I’ve heard in years – in fact it is so good that I have one of my servants follow me around at all times with a portable gramophone playing and replaying this track as my real-time real-life theme tune. True story.
Plus I’m a sucker for music vids in woods.
Next track ‘Sixteen’ is another cracker, a slow, stomping waltz that Tom waits would be proud of, built on a Screaming Jay Hawkins sample, the song is about girls losing their innocence too early. It contains the brilliant lines,
Now what the Devil want,
Believe the Devil gonna get.
He gonna stretch her out.
Like a tape in a cassette.
The way the music stops and stretches before Swaby delivers the clipped last word is another magic moment – trust me. As soon as the song finishes we’re straight into the sound FX at the beginning of the Morricone-tastic ‘Short Change Hero’, the reason I own this vinyl in the first place. This is every bit the classic that ‘How You Like Me Now’ is, which is pretty fine going- most bands can make careers out of much less. the song shows perfect command of atmosphere and groove, yet again. I don’t want to hit you with it again but Kelvin Swaby’s delivery is just incredible, adding a real layer of emotion and vulnerability to the track.
And here it is in the form I originally encountered it – warning contains unpleasant cartoon-style violence towards robots and cartoon alien creatures.
Unfortunately for me, The House That Dirt Built takes a sharp left turn away from greatness on the second side. There’s nothing too wrong with the next five tracks or so, although ‘No Time’ gets a bit too Kravitz for my liking, but there are several potentially neat ideas in search of an equally good tune knocking about. The band, as always play it well, taut and sensitive throughout but it’s just lacking a certain something – it’s all very well to mix up styles of music like ska and soul, but that’s not enough in itself, you need that extra chunk of tune to hit home to the bone. Some words of praise though, the musicianship is never less than immense Daniel Taylor on guitar, Spencer Page on bass and particularly Chris Ellul on drums.
Right at the end though The Heavy pull of a blinding save, last track ‘Stuck’ is a rather beautiful ballad built on the same perfect reverb not heard properly since ‘Instant Karma’ and that voice again, wounded but hopeful, wavering and resolute. Hell, we’ve all been there folks:
There was a frost when you left this morning
But there’ll be fireworks when you come home
The whole is underwritten by some delicately classy strings and pulls off the very neat trick of sounding heartfelt rather than for effect. I’m also a big fan of LPs that end with ballads, a trick Aerosmith used to pull off so well in the days when all the other tracks on the LP weren’t ballads too.
I really think this is a good, ambitious album and I hope I don’t sound like I’ve knocked it too much. I think the problem is that The Heavy set such a skyscrapingly high standard for themselves on Side A that Side B, almost inevitably, falters a little. I’d love to see them do their thing live, but I’ve not quite managed it yet. As for the great bits, if you like music – then I recommend them. If not – ?
*you know what I’m talking about! I’m a Level 36 Mechromancer, thanks for asking. I’m kind of a big deal on the planet Pandora.
**I know what I just said, but I meant it.