A State of Grace

The House of Love

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A State of Grace Review

by Tim Sendra

After a couple of reunion albums that presented a laid-back take on the noisy dream pop made by their original incarnation, the House of Love's leader, Guy Chadwick, cut all ties to the past, bar the band's name, for 2022's State of Grace. That means guitarist Terry Bickers is once again out of the fold, replaced by Keith Osborne of Idlewild. It also means that the band have shifted gears away from the melancholy jangle of previous comeback albums towards a more energetic, blues-rock-inspired, country-rock adjacent sound. Hearing banjos and harmonica on a House of Love album is something of a shock, and so is the idea of the very British Chadwick delving into the byways of Americana and wrapping his arching, sneering vocals around tunes that rollick and weep like the offspring of Lee Hazlewood and the Band. The opening "Sweet Loser" shuffles morosely, pushed along by biting guitars that growl and slide alongside a wailing harmonica and Chadwick's mean-tempered vocals. It doesn't sound like anything the band have attempted before, and it almost works. The same goes for the rest of the songs that dip a pale toe into blues-rock tropes. The strutting grind of "Melody Rose" is overdone; by the time the overdriven guitar solo wanders in, one is ready to move to the next track. Unfortunately, that one -- "Clouds" -- features cliched, burly guitar riffing matched with an underfed rhythm section. Much better are the songs that lean into C&W troubadour territory. "Light of the Morning" is the kind of maximalist attempt at the genre Primal Scream keeps trying that comes complete with gospel backing vocals, banjo, harmonica, and, luckily, some big, fat hooks. It's showy, a little silly, and, not coincidentally, a whole bunch of fun. So is the light-hearted rambler "Queen of Song." The more subdued forays into C&W storytelling are also successful, with Chadwick bringing some lightly weathered experience to the vocals, and the band displaying a lighter touch than they do on the plodding blues-rock tracks. "Just One More Song" even trips lightly into mid-'70s lachrymose barroom balladry with surprisingly decent results. The uneven returns of those explorations into new genres could have been avoided if they had just stuck to their guns and cranked out some more familiar sounds. The songs that work the best here are definitely those that stick closest to classic HOL territory. "Into the Laughter" pairs a nice melody with some circular, Bickers-like guitar swoon, and the title track has a propulsive beat, crashing guitars, and a chorus that has the catchiness their best work has always delivered. A couple more like this, and cut out all the blues-rock, and State of Grace might have been a solid entry in their CV instead of the misfire it is.

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