Pretty - Harry Howard and the NDE (Spooky Records)
We'll start with the obvious. You need this one like you need underpants or shoes or food. Get it here. Buy "Pretty" for Christmas presents. Buy it for people you barely know. Send it to everyone in TV and Movie Land you can think of.
Alright, I confess the obvious, that I've been looking forward to this. But "Prett"y is Harry's second LP, and second LPs sometimes sink a band... When I first saw the lary pink cover, phew, well pink isn't ugly, exactly, but it ain't pretty. It's an inversion of what pretty and pink are supposed to be. The rear cover, we're instantly drawn to the relationship between Harry and Ed, his wife. It's a truly intimate moment, tremendously moving. Gives a kind of indication of what we're in for...
Of course, sometimes a second lp proves to be a massive springboard ... and that's what Pretty is. I listened as carefully as I could while dancing round the room wearing a headset on a too-short cord and trying not to knock everything over. I've put the room back more or less as I found it and I hope she won't notice.
Why do you - and everyone else - need "Pretty" in their home, car and workplace? Well, it's a fantastic slice of sharp, smart powerful pop for a start. Second, the songs are mighty fine, the lyrics well thought out and feature Harry Howard's by now trademark wit and incision. Pretty is clever, spitty and spiky. And the contrast between Ed and Harry's vocals is, as ever, quite extraordinary.
You can also dance your arse off to most of "Pretty", just like Harry's last one, "Near Death Experience", which was also a cracker. Both have a veritable armload of favourite tracks and potential hits, both leak self-assurance and backyard blues - as percolated through a bubblegum machine.
Back when I wasn't such a flubbawubba, there weren't that many bands I could dance to. Devo, the B52s, the Laughing Clowns, Grong Grong, the Scientists ...
When this band come to town I feel sure that I am going to make a perfect tit of myself attempting to dance the whole set. Harry and co are that good?
I mean, this is exciting. It's big. Harry's lifted the bar.
So. Right. Let me get my breath. No point in going song by song. The main points of Near Death Experience were, on the surface, love, death, old, girls, shoes and feet. These simple themes took us deep beneath the surface into hot and cold currents of a real relationship and real lives, red with tooth and claw (to pinch a phrase) amongst the everyday simple attractions.
The main points of "Prett"y are not the same but pretty similar, and the effect is much greater. The direction is firmer, more purposeful. There are beautifully simple chord changes and gorgeous little lifts. It's wonderfully worldly pop with tentacles just beneath the surface. Harry and Ed sing about the difference between the inner world and our real feelings, and the occasional bitter reality where our best intentions and love goes haywire or into some damaged area. That said, there's a lot of love in Harry's music, a lot of humour which I won't try to interpret; you'll just have to follow his trail of breadcrumbs yourself...
And you keep wanting to dance, and you find yourself singing along. I find myself hollering: "You were always on the edge of time"... god, what the neighbours must think I couldn't say. Or "You and I could have saved the world/And let them live". Clearly there's a lot on Harry's mind, but it's the context, the original way he approaches his themes, that we end up being drawn into some droll vortex, pulled and dragged here and there and shoved out at the end, rather looking forward to hearing that one again, actually. If I had to make a comparison... no, I won't.
Figure it out for yourself. I mean, it's kinda like Harry's kept a blend of certain periods of music in a strongbox in his head, and over time it's all distilled into this exquisite (occasionally chaotic) liquor. There's huge power and strength here, the songs seem so well thought out, really gutsy too. Harry's guitar is beginning to develop a real swagger, too, but he draws it out, plays with it, so you're never going to think of him as some sort of rock god. Maybe some sort of pop demon, straddling the here and now and the ancient world.
The title "Pretty" comes from the song "Wipe Out", which is damn funny and damn ugly at the same time; it's a baiting song, where baiting is a manner of seduction and the girl doesn't quite realise it because she's being insulted one second, complimented the next. Surprising the lyric doesn't include something about the singer being belted with a cricket bat, but there you are.
Just to make this clear: the songs are deceptively simple, remarkably danceable, have subtexts which will take you years of listening to unravel, and you need this band in your life like you need a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and ...