Harry Howard's songs will stay with you
Harry Howard Presents: Slight Pavilions – Harry Howard (Cranes Records)
If you'd made this LP, you'd be bloody proud. It's a triumph, as far as I'm concerned.
How to get your attention?
Remember those “Nuggets” compilations when they first came out, tipping what we knew of the 1960s upside our heads? How so many of those tracks had such a unique joy of life, such a moving intimacy?
“Slight Pavilions” sounds nothing like those “forgotten” independent records of the 1960s, but it certainly does have that joy of life, a profound intimacy, and more than a touch of the backyard rebel. It also echoes that strange late 1970s and early '80s period when so much experimentation was taking place... Technologically, the difference between then and now is profound and borderline unbelievable.
Mind you, since I have no idea how a mobile phone works (never mind a car), I think of both as “magic”, but that's neither here nor there. I hope.
Harry Howard plays all the music here. Some songs shimmer and soar, others smoulder and pitch. The electronic beats have been carefully worked and lovingly crafted, every fragment tested and tried before committing to the deep azure of the recording process.
Now, since reviewing Christopher Marshall's new LP, I've been a bit smitten by vocalists, listening to several with increasing awe. Pauline Black of The Selector. Jean Jacques Brunel and Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers. Tom Waits. Real ground-breaking stuff. Such unique voices.
The first thing that hits you on “Slight Pavilions” is this eerie, circling retro aspect to it which is almost predatory.
The second is that Harry's voice, well to the fore, is unique. Moreish, in fact. Sometimes it sounds almost 1960s pop (“My Love”), others a burr in a dog's paw (“Back From Space”).
Third, as you keep listening, you realise there's quite a lot going on - just enough to propel the songs forward, shifting and writhing, each in its own trajectory.
While “Kill Those Years” is, arguably, the most immediately arresting song on the LP, I've had this (and several other albums) on repeat for the last week or two. Certainly shades of Harry's past infest the songs, but you don't need to be told this. If I was to utter any other sort of comparison, the Specials “Ghost Town” springs to mind ... though it sounds nothing like it.
Dammit, why aren't big record companies sorting themselves out? “Back From Space” is surely a massive hit waiting to happen?
Overall, Howard's guitarwork, his tones, his beckoning tunes on “Slight Pavilions” - it's all simply magnificent. His bass remains a strong, fine and admirable creature.
Take that lazy, strolling '50s greaser tone on “The War Won” - nothing short of captivating. The progression on “Lately”, with its accompaniment, leads you down a path (hope you remember to leave the trail of breadcrumbs).
At a guess, I'd say Howard has found the time between dealing with his job, writer wife, children and all the other facets of human day-to-day to pause to look back on his life, and others. “(I Was My Own) Worst Enemy” might have emerged from underground Melbourne in 1980, or any time since. His rolling bass echoes that of (for example) Crime and the City Solution circa 1986, but the magnificence lies in the determined, purposeful drive.
I've tried to give hints of what “Slight Pavilions” is like - but the reality is that I'll be twisting this on the player for years to come.
The last thing I'll say is that every review I've seen so far mentions Howard's previous associations. All that stuff is utterly distracting and misleading. Listen to ”Slight Pavilions” with an empty past, an empty mind.
See? Harry Howard's songs stand alone.
Buy it. Here.