Two greats from ’88: House of Love and Ultra Vivid Scene

1988 was a great but somewhat overlooked year in rock ‘n’ roll. The English music scene that captivated me so much when I first fell in love with alternative sounds at the beginning of the decade was going through growing pains. My beloved Echo and the Bunnymen, who could do no wrong, released their tepid fifth self-titled album in 1987;  one that would break them in America, but at a price. They were never the same again. The original Sisters of Mercy lineup disintegrated, the Psychedelic Furs lost their edge, and most depressing of all, the Smiths broke up. My favorite band, the Jesus and Mary Chain released a much different follow up to Psychocandy, which while great, left me jonesing for noise.

Noise would make a return. Groups like Spacemen 3, Loop, and My Bloody Valentine had already been revisiting the spirit of Psychocandy, with unique twists of their own, while American acts like Dinosaur, Jr. and the Pixies were making a similar splash, especially in England. All of these groups would end up becoming huge influences on what would later be termed shoegaze. Against this backdrop, the House of Love and Ultra Vivid Scene released their seminal debuts in 1988 on Creation and 4AD, respectively.

The House of Love were the perfect marriage of sixties rock ‘n’ roll classicism and contemporary noise pop. Think Mary Chain meets the Smiths. The combination of Guy Chadwick on vocals and Terry Bickers on guitar was as mesmerizing as Morrissey and Marr. Their self-titled album was a breezy affair, clocking in at barely thirty minutes without a wasted word or note. I remember buying a vinyl copy of this for $5 at a used record store in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Wazoo and playing it five times in a row that Saturday afternoon. Later, I would pick up a German compilation of the singles that did not appear on the record, including “Destroy The Heart” and “Shine On.”

Ultra Vivid Scene was an American act fronted by Kurt Ralske, who brought to mind the Jesus and Mary Chain, Velvet Underground, and Spacemen 3. At this time, I was writing a crap fanzine that shall go nameless (a predecessor to my much better ’90s zine Vendetta) and was able to score an Ultra Vivid Scene promo cassette. I wore it out so much in my car that I ended up having to re-buy it on vinyl! To this day, that record and the group’s follow up Joy 1967-1990 are in heavy rotation.

Ben Vendetta is the author of the music-centric novels Wivenhoe Park (2013) and Heartworm (forthcoming Spring 2015). Wivenhoe Park is available on Kindle and paperback via Amazon. Signed paperbacks can be purchased from Elephant Stone Records

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