Hammersmith Apollo, London
Simon Price on pop: Emeli Sandé, you've delighted us long enough – now give us something new
Saturday 13 April 2013
I opened an envelope the other day and Emeli Sandé turned up. OK, an old joke, but they keep coming. Only last week, some wag tweeted "Which song is Emili Sandé singing at Thatcher's funeral?" For most of last year, it seemed that Sandé – who at the start of it was just another name on those Brightest Hopes/Sound of lists – was inescapable. You couldn't switch on, say, the Olympics opening ceremony, the Olympics closing ceremony, The X Factor, The Voice or even BBC Sports Relief without seeing her bleached quiff, or hearing her signature tune "Next to Me".
It was that aggressive canvassing campaign that led to her double Brit Awards victory in February. Of course, she's hard to begrudge, because she's pretty good. And with Amy dead, Duffy retired and Adele kidnapped by Hollywood, the industry is glad of a Brit-soul singer who'll say yes to things. But overfamiliarity breeds contempt, and those "Sandé, Bloody Sandé" gags just write themselves.
Right now, filling Hammersmith for three nights, she's getting away with it in some style. Even if the style isn't her own: Nina Simone or Roberta Flack with beats, essentially. She plays a mean piano on "River", and skips around with perilous energy in a pencil skirt for most of the set. The peak of crowd excitement, however, is when, in a sharp suit and to much female screaming, Labrinth walks on to duet on his grammatically challenged "Beneath Your Beautiful".
Once this tour is over, the hope is that Sandé will step away from the spotlight and work on some new, more daring, material. Because nowhere in the showbiz handbook does it say "leave 'em wanting less".
Seeing The House of Love (Concorde 2, Brighton ***) for the first time is a night I'll never forget. My social committee at UCL Union had booked them in the late Eighties, thrilled to find a band who were a bright and still-undiscovered prospect. They didn't quite look the part: a bunch of misfits rather than a rock 'n'roll band, but there was something special about the House of Love. Or, rather, someone special. It's clearer now, two decades on, that THoL were a standard-issue indie rock band, schooled on the Velvet Underground and Postcard Records, who happened to have a ready-made guitar hero on board. Terry Bickers had it all: the jangle of Marr and dark-eyed good looks. But then the band were snapped up by a big label, and things started to go wrong. Their second album was relatively weak, represented tonight by "I Don't Know Why I Love You" and the daft "The Beatles and The Stones" who, its lyric claims, "put the V in Vietnam".
Before long, Bickers was taking too much acid, burning banknotes on the band bus, and was booted out, enhancing his own mystique but hobbling the House of Love. Some bands can survive, even thrive after the loss of a guitar god – hello Suede, hello Stones – but the House of Love were never the same again. By 1993, they'd broken up. To this day, former frontman Guy Chadwick is your man for sash windows in south London.
When they reformed in 2005, they brought Bickers back on board. And, oh my, he's still got it. In a pile-driving "Christine", the pedal-happy guitarist follows the words "chaos in the big sea" with a break that onomatopoeically creates that very sensation. "Love in a Car" swells from a delicate ostinato to an all-out assault.
And they're not just a nostalgia act: there are two post-reformation albums to play from. What they lack is a charismatic central focus. There are awkward silences between songs: when Chadwick announces, before "Se Dest", that "We're gonna take it down", it's hard to imagine how much lower the atmosphere could go.
You can't blame Bickers, Chadwick and co for wanting to waltz the ghosts of the days when they were miraculous, wanting to sh-sh-sh-shine on. But seeing The House of Love for the most recent time is a night I'll forget soon enough.
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