Dublin’s A House are a curious choice for a ‘best of’ retrospective. Despite being around for 12 years, they never really set the chart alight and their demise in 1997 went largely unnoticed. Even today, you’ll have to dig deep to find any tribute websites set up to pay homage to Dave Couse and his band.
So this album is a perfect opportunity to discover whether A House were one of the great lost bands of our times, or whether the public were right to remain impervious to their Gaelic charms.
The answer is, curiously enough, a bit of both. While some of A House’s oeuvre has certainly not aged well, there are enough gems here for a pleasant hour’s worth of listening.
The least successful songs are probably the early recordings, Kick Me Again Jesus and Call Me Blue. The rawness of these first singles probably sounded exciting back in 1985, but the effect these days is pretty dated. Call Me Blue has a pleasingly soaring chorus, but Couse’s yelp of a voice doesn’t suit the material, and soon begins to grate.
Thankfully, they improved with age. I’ll Always Be Grateful is reminiscent of early Pulp, while the band’s second album, I Want Too Much, proved Couse to be developing into a witty and mature songwriter. Thirteen Wonderful Love Songs displayed a touching lyric, (“Why don’t you come around?” yells Couse at one point), while Small Talk was the most accessible track they’d recorded at that point.
A House probably reached their commercial and critical peak in 1991 with the release of I Am The Greatest. Produced by fellow Setanta Records stalwart Edwyn Collins, a veritable kindred spirit with regards to quirky, sardonic pop songs, the material suited Couse’s idiosyncratic voice perfectly. Their best-known song, and the standout track here, was Endless Art, one of the great ‘list’ songs of our times. Basically consisting of Couse reciting a list of famous dead artists whose work still stands the test of time, it really shouldn’t have worked, but thankfully did. Definitely the only song to namecheck Claude Monet, Sid Vicious, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, it also includes the wonderful couplet “Johan Strauss, Richard Strauss/Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse RIP, all dead yet still alive”.
Sadly, the band failed to build on the success on I Am The Greatest and after two more albums they split in 1997. Listening to this collection, A House were probably a bit too unusual for mainstream tastes. If the name rings a bell, or if you’re a fan of accessible yet different pop, The Way We Were is certainly well worth a listen. A House, 1985-1997 – dead yet still alive, as the band themselves may have put it.