PRETTY - Harry Howard and the NDE (Spooky Records)
We'll start with the obvious. You need this one like you need underpants or shoes or food. Get it here. Buy "Pretty" for Christmas presents. Buy it for people you barely know. Send it to everyone in TV and Movie Land you can think of.
Alright, I confess the obvious, that I've been looking forward to this. But "Prett"y is Harry's second LP, and second LPs sometimes sink a band... When I first saw the lary pink cover, phew, well pink isn't ugly, exactly, but it ain't pretty. It's an inversion of what pretty and pink are supposed to be. The rear cover, we're instantly drawn to the relationship between Harry and Ed, his wife. It's a truly intimate moment, tremendously moving. Gives a kind of indication of what we're in for...
Of course, sometimes a second lp proves to be a massive springboard ... and that's what Pretty is. I listened as carefully as I could while dancing round the room wearing a headset on a too-short cord and trying not to knock everything over. I've put the room back more or less as I found it and I hope she won't notice.
Why do you - and everyone else - need "Pretty" in their home, car and workplace? Well, it's a fantastic slice of sharp, smart powerful pop for a start. Second, the songs are mighty fine, the lyrics well thought out and feature Harry Howard's by now trademark wit and incision. Pretty is clever, spitty and spiky. And the contrast between Ed and Harry's vocals is, as ever, quite extraordinary.
You can also dance your arse off to most of "Pretty", just like Harry's last one, "Near Death Experience", which was also a cracker. Both have a veritable armload of favourite tracks and potential hits, both leak self-assurance and backyard blues - as percolated through a bubblegum machine.
Back when I wasn't such a flubbawubba, there weren't that many bands I could dance to. Devo, the B52s, the Laughing Clowns, Grong Grong, the Scientists ...
When this band come to town I feel sure that I am going to make a perfect tit of myself attempting to dance the whole set. Harry and co are that good?
I mean, this is exciting. It's big. Harry's lifted the bar.
So. Right. Let me get my breath. No point in going song by song. The main points of Near Death Experience were, on the surface, love, death, old, girls, shoes and feet. These simple themes took us deep beneath the surface into hot and cold currents of a real relationship and real lives, red with tooth and claw (to pinch a phrase) amongst the everyday simple attractions.
The main points of "Prett"y are not the same but pretty similar, and the effect is much greater. The direction is firmer, more purposeful. There are beautifully simple chord changes and gorgeous little lifts. It's wonderfully worldly pop with tentacles just beneath the surface. Harry and Ed sing about the difference between the inner world and our real feelings, and the occasional bitter reality where our best intentions and love goes haywire or into some damaged area. That said, there's a lot of love in Harry's music, a lot of humour which I won't try to interpret; you'll just have to follow his trail of breadcrumbs yourself...
And you keep wanting to dance, and you find yourself singing along. I find myself hollering: "You were always on the edge of time"... god, what the neighbours must think I couldn't say. Or "You and I could have saved the world/And let them live". Clearly there's a lot on Harry's mind, but it's the context, the original way he approaches his themes, that we end up being drawn into some droll vortex, pulled and dragged here and there and shoved out at the end, rather looking forward to hearing that one again, actually. If I had to make a comparison... no, I won't. Figure it out for yourself. I mean, it's kinda like Harry's kept a blend of certain periods of music in a strongbox in his head, and over time it's all distilled into this exquisite (occasionally chaotic) liquor. There's huge power and strength here, the songs seem so well thought out, really gutsy too. Harry's guitar is beginning to develop a real swagger, too, but he draws it out, plays with it, so you're never going to think of him as some sort of rock god. Maybe some sort of pop demon, straddling the here and now and the ancient world.
The title "Pretty" comes from the song "Wipe Out", which is damn funny and damn ugly at the same time; it's a baiting song, where baiting is a manner of seduction and the girl doesn't quite realise it because she's being insulted one second, complimented the next. Surprising the lyric doesn't include something about the singer being belted with a cricket bat, but there you are.
Just to make this clear: the songs are deceptively simple, remarkably danceable, have subtexts which will take you years of listening to unravel, and you need this band in your life like you need a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and ... - Robert Brokenmouth
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE - Harry Howard and the NDE (Spooky Records)
Wonderful. I love pop, especially smart, intelligent, literate pop. In one sense this LP is kinda like discovering one of those '60s gems at the back of your older brother's collection and realising ... this is just fucking perfect. In timeless pop style, I cannot pick my favourite song. And I keep playing the thing. Over and over.
I'm too old for this ain't I?
(Creaks joints and shuffles arthritically around the room, waving arms like a feeble supplicant.)
In the left corner, we have the rhythm section (Dave'n'Clare) setting up a simple, powerful backup. Dangerous, but their savagery is held magnificently in check. It's the potential which counts here. In the right, Ed handles keys, stylophone and backing vox, and without her the balance would falter. In the middle, the referee, Harry Howard, whose fault this is. Incidentally, this Howard family do seem to be terribly talented.
Like all great pop, first you want to dance and then you find yourself singing along. The next day finds you whistling odd snatches and annoying the cat.
There's a lot of humour here, in the music as well as the lyrics, but you don't want to listen to that, fuck it you just want to dance. NO, I'm not going to give you examples you lazy bastard, go find out for yourself. Alright, then, take "All I Want To Do Is Shoot You Dead".... try not giggling to this one.
I watched video show Rage this morning. Fuck it's so lame. The usual predictable rubbish. I don't know why they call it pop. I remember the world before the Ramones. I remember the first time I heard the first LP (and yes, if you listen to it now it does seem terribly slow) and not thinking about it, but being incredibly excited. This was what rock 'n' roll was supposed to be. And then English punk turned up, with its fast pop beat, and then it ... morphed.
Kinda like what Harry's doing here. That morphed modern/retro thing. It's not all the same tempo, there's changes of direction, which we follow, giggling and forgetting to leave a trail of breadcrumbs; lost, fascinated with the little soap operas (but the kind you want to see, with lines like: "We can't go on when all I want to is shoot you dead').
This CD defies its current decade. You could be mistaken for thinking it was made in '78, or '84, or ... hell, 1969. If you marketed it with a lairy green and purple swirly cover and dancing hippies, you'd be as right on the money as if you'd slapped a deserted liverpool factory on instead. As I say, go buy (no, I mean it, actually buy the cd) it, crack up the volume and dance like a dickhead. When you get tired, the slower song will come on, then they'll haul you up on your feet again.
Then make sure you see the band. Over and over. Get everything you can find signed by the band. Buy them drinks and drugs and invite them home. Make them lasagne and offer to pay their children's school fees, their rent. Buy them gift after gift. Pray they make another record - and another and another.
Why buy the CD? 1) Feel like a human being, and you'll have something to stick under the band's nose to sign and they won't think you're cheap; 2) lovely, romantic front cover artwork; 3) you get to examine the small photos of the band as they try to get a decent photo session together. Some of the background expressions are worth the price of admission alone; 4) you get to read a fabulous quote from Lewis Carroll; 5) you get to see Rowland S. Howard referred to as 'giddy'; 6) and just because you don't have anything better to spend your money on (except maybe a donation to Scott Morgan).
Sorry, Barman. Five fucking bottles. Oh, alright, four and a half, but only because I want to hear another 13 songs and they're not on there. No, five bottles. Five, dammit. (Does rather pathetic stagger around the room, joints creaking like a rotting yacht) - Robert Brokenmouth
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