The House That Dirt Built is the sophomore release by British retro-soul band The Heavy. This album sees them exploring the late-sixties soul sound of their debut Great Vengeance and Furious Fire. It also sees them going in several other musical directions, some good and some not so much.
The basis of The Heavy sound is a combination of the pronounced backbeat of hip-hop with late-60s soul.Tracks like "How You Like Me Now" and "Love Like That" sound a lot like Mark Ronson's reworking of the Dap-Kings' instrumentals on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. It's as if they are sampling themselves, beefing up the drum track and looping the guitar and horns. I love it when hip-hop producers do it to old soul songs, I loved it when Mark Ronson did it, and I love it on The House That Dirt Built. It hearkens back to that classic Stax soul sound while adding a modern twist.
That's not the only sound that The Heavy explore. They also try a little Howlin' Wolf on wild rockers like "Oh No! Not You Again!" and "Sixteen," which interpolates "I Put A Spell On You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins. They take things in a mellower direction on "Long Way From Home," and "Short Change Hero." The latter is a masterpiece that starts off with looped spaghetti western music, and works it into a brilliant soul song. They also explore reggae on "Cause for Alarm," which sounds a little like the Gorillaz, although singer Kelvin Swaby's sudden West Indian accent isn't all that convincing.
So long as the band is rocking out in the Jay Hawkins tradition, all is well. Unfortunately, they go for a more contemporary hard rock sound on "What Do You Want Me to Do?" and "No Time." The result sounds like Lenny Kravitz doing Soundgarden, the type of boring rock that bands like The Heavy are meant to combat. I sincerely hope that they are aberrations and not a signal of the new direction the band wants to take. Album closer "Stuck" is a stab at a more contemporary ballad that falls flat, lacking the verve that make The Heavy such an exciting band.
It's clear The Heavy are trying to expand their sound and not just resort to being one-trick ponies. While their various stylistic experiments don't all bear fruit, there is enough rocking retro soul on The House That Dirt Built to make it worth your time.