This is an album worth celebrating. A lot of bands have been criticised for always sounding the same – The Wedding Present would be one example, even Oasis, in spite of the fact that there was a certain amount of progression in style through their albums (nowhere near as much as The Beatles of course, but still). But then again, there are some bands, like Helen Love, where refusal to stray from their own style is part of the appeal.
I bought an early album by Helen Love on 10” from Spillers, probably purely on the basis of the cover, with its brash, pop feel – I was big into pop art at the time. I did an A-level art project on the subject. Roy Lichtenstein was one of my least favourite pop artists because of the fact that, to my eye, he only had one style. But as for that Helen Love record, no surprises, the music matched the artwork – it was, as I might have expected, bubblegum pop.
From the synth sound, to the authoriative-sounding, almost monotone vocal, that hint at humour and the relentlessly familiar references – a Helen Love record that doesn’t mention Joey Ramone is a rarity – you know what you’re going to get with Helen Love.
But that doesn’t mean that any new release is not fun to listen to. There’ll be some new lyrics that might make you laugh. A lot of the songs are quite relatable, particularly for people of a certain age. My favourite song on this new album is Swansea’s Got A Our Price. I grew up in Bridgend, but although Bridgend is smack bang in the middle between Cardiff and Swansea, I would nearly always go shopping for records in Cardiff. About the one time I recall going to Swansea to buy a record – Swansea market if I’m correct – was to buy one of the much sought after monthly Hit Parade singles by The Wedding Present. Sometimes you could pick them up cheap in Woolies in Bridgend, but sometimes they were much harder to find. Not sure if I ever actually went to Our Price in Swansea, but according to Helen Love, this is where their love affair with music began.
Something that annoys me about people unfamiliar with Helen Love is that they assume Helen Love is the name of a singer, when in fact it’s the name of the band. I suppose it’s a not unreasonable assumption to make. But it’s just a slightly annoying factor, like when The Stone Roses were first getting played on Radio 1 and the fkn DJs insisted on calling them Stone Roses, dropping the The. God knows why they did that, but that frustrated me in a similar way.
Helen Love are a very knowing band. I suppose a bit like The Pooh Sticks. I suppose when you love music so much, especially if you love indie music, you’re likely to know your stuff, and this always comes across. It’s almost a badge you wear with pride I suppose. But at the same time, that doesn’t stop them, or you or anyone else rejoicing in being a fan of music. As well as, I suppose, a fan of anything, the world, your own little world you’re wrapped up in, the world as a whole. There’s actually a lot more to Helen Love than you might imagine.
Of course, the bottom line is, I suppose, for a record to be classified as good, one factor is that it does have to sound good. And this record, I think, sounds very good indeed. I’ve listened to it through three or four times already today, the album’s official launch day, and I’ve really enjoyed it. Yay Helen Love! This will definitely be among my favourite albums of the year (not that I generally keep track like that). And while Helen Love like to celebrate other bands, well known or obscure, maybe it’s about time they were recognised in their own right (by anyone who hasn’t already done so) for being a part of life’s rich musical tapestry.