The reunification of House of Love’s Guy Chadwick and Terry Bickers for 2005′s Days Run Away was an unlikely development from the unlikeliest partnership in first-wave shoegaze/indie.
Formed in 1987 in low-rent Camberwell, South London, two or three years after The Jesus & Mary Chain had electrified the city with feedback and leather-trousered cool, their band marked a return to the JAMC’s narcotically enhanced, Velvet Underground-inspired art-rock perspective, after two years of dainty C86 combos. Though much fêted in the UK music press, they, like the Velvets, didn’t quite make the grade commercially, only later to be cherished as a bridging influence on My Bloody Valentine, Ride and all their lesser noise-pop successors.
Chadwick and Bickers parted company after just one tempestuous, self-titled album. Bookish Chadwick soldiered on with more neo-classical art-rock HoL line-ups, while space-cadet Bickers drifted off into the ether with his Levitation.
That this self-defeating chalk-and-cheese duo should now strike back with their second reunion effort, albeit eight years on from the last, but with original production foil Pat Collier in tow, is a dream come true for disciples and nu-gazers alike. Listening to “PKR” — aka “Purple Killer Rose,” an old Chadwick/Vickers gem which slipped between the cracks in their partnership back in the day — it’s like being transported to House Of Love’s late-’80s majesty, as Bickers’s lyrical, FX-drenched guitar strains at the leash of Chadwick’s compositional control. Other tracks like the opening, exquisitely starlit “A Baby Got Back On Its Feet” thrillingly reignite the tension between singer/guitarist Chadwick’s simmering poetry and Bickers’ fluid virtuosity.
With the wisdom of their mature years, though, it’s clear that the ever-volatile duo have come to appreciate and accommodate each other’s respective talents. Where Bickers’s rampant amp abuse used to threaten to eclipse Chadwick’s more formal songwriterliness, here, as per album title, he’s far more sympathetic in splashing colors in between Chadwick’s intense lyrics.
Often, their music has an uncharacteristically rootsy quality: “Lost in the Blues” actually hints more towards precise Nashville country, while the harmonies and finger-picking on “Low Black Clouds” have an almost baroque folky splendor. “Never Again,” by contrast, verges on skiffle. Elsewhere, the title track’s jangling arpeggios are pure Byrdsian folk-rock, and “Hemingway” — the boozy man of letters is a quintessential Chadwick hero — showcases the kind of literary-minded songcraft which fired early Belle & Sebastian. With all its references ancient and modern, She Paints Words In Red signals a bold new evolution in a truly singular alt-rock coupling.