A House

  • A House
  • On Our Big Fat Merry-Go-Round (Sire/Reprise) 1988 
  • I Want Too Much (Sire/Reprise) 1990 
  • I Am the Greatest (Setanta/Radioactive) 1992 
  • Wide Eyed and Ignorant (Setanta/Radioactive) 1995 

Ireland’s A House never reached the stadium status of U2 or influenced as many bands as the Undertones. But that’s not to say the Dublin quartet’s contribution to the history of shamrock’n’roll has been insubstantial.

Singer Dave Couse crafts literate (not to mention wordy) treatises on romance and frustration that should send most rock lyricists scrambling for a thesaurus. Unpredictable and relentlessly smart, A House’s first two albums toy with a buoyant folkiness the group wholly embraced on the next two. The first LP is a sprightly collection of literate guitar rock, made all the more endearing by Couse’s melodramatic (and often hilariously off-key) vocals. The joyous, charging should-have-been-a-hit “Call Me Blue” and the torchy “My Little Lighthouse” introduce an idea-filled band that isn’t afraid to wear its heart (among other organs) on its sleeve.

I Want Too Much inadvertently answers the burning musical question, “What if the Violent Femmes aspired to be an honest-to-goodness electric rock group and not a jumped-up jug band?” An oversimplification, perhaps, but this is one amazing record. From the gentle folky strum of the opening “13 Wonderful Love Songs” to “Small Talk,” I Want Too Much reveals a band with an uncanny knack for witty pop that actually means something. Songs like “The Patron Saint of Mediocrity” and “I Think I’m Going Mad” provide a fair idea of the mindset at work here.

A House recorded I Am the Greatest pared down to three core members, with help from, among others, Mekons violinist Susie Honeyman. Sympathetically produced by Edwyn Collins, the album is simply stunning. It opens with a grating yet powerful shitlist (“I Don’t Care”) but quickly eases into lilting fiddle-accented pop that recalls Dexy’s Midnight Runners, the Violent Femmes and the Pogues. “Take It Easy on Me” and “You’re Too Young” are just two standouts; the US edition deletes three tracks.

Mostly produced by Collins, Wide Eyed and Ignorant is not much of a departure, though the US version again deletes three tracks while adding two. “Curious” and “Here Come the Good Times” find the trio at the peak of its hook-crafting powers. Couse bemoans his broken heart with such average-guy likability on the delightful “Why Me?” that you can’t help but feel for him.

[Doug Brod]