22 April 2009

"I am the first to see the light at your door..."

Room In Your Heart by Living In A Box. A long, string-laden ballad from 1989 which was described by a Smash Hits reviewer as "dull and characterless, like all their records" but also, jointly, the biggest UK hit of the Sheffield trio's brief run of success in the charts.

Where to start with this? There was a short period in 1989 where I rather liked this deeply unfashionable band. I bought the second album, Gatecrashing, on the strength of decent reviews from even the inkies, as well as the teen mags, and from there dipped backwards and found a cheap copy of their self-titled debut album from two years before.

If there was one thing that Living In A Box could boast, it was a good singer. Richard Darbyshire was always heavily in demand for session work from the industry, be it before, during or after his time fronting the band. From what I could decipher from female classmates, he had an allure to him too, smouldering and mysterious, and given that the reviewer was largely right about the sound of the music, it was possibly as much this as anything else that got three Top 10 hits out of a rather ordinary group.

Room In Your Heart was their penultimate single and their last successful one, coming out in the autumn of 1989 as the third release from Gatecrashing. It was rehashed from the album version, with a plodding piano intro shrouded by a new acappella bit of harmonising from Darbyshire prior to the one-paced, tunnelled first verse.

However, it picked up. The lyrics were understandable and emotive - I still really like the line "The door is open wide, is anybody there?" - and the middle eight allowed Darbyshire to go into rage mode ("I can feeeeeeeeeeeeel it!"), something he always did rather well. The last two choruses were down to the girly backing singers while Darbyshire's croaked adlibbing aimed to find a dramatic ending, then one single note, which took forever to fade, ended the song at just under five minutes.

Living In A Box got famous in 1987 for bringing out a song after which they had named themselves. This meant that, drearily, any statistic-friendly disc jockey (which is all of us, to be honest) could say on air that we'd just played Living In A Box with Living In A Box, taken from the album Living In A Box. It had a smart intro and Darbyshire's quickly-familiar "waaaah-how!" exclamation at the outset, prior to the following of what became their regular recipe of promising but never brilliant pop. It got good pre-release airplay, charted high and ended up at No.5. Obviously the song remains on the radar for homeless documentaries and tiresome gags about inappropriate songs to play at funerals. The twelve-inch and CD single editions - plus the album - feature a long, less synthesised, vocal-free reprise of the song which is extremely good.

The second and third singles - Scales Of Justice and So The Story Goes - were two of the most featureless dirges of the 1980s and deservedly stuck between 30 and 40 in the charts. The latter, inexplicably, featured Bobby Womack on co-vocals, entirely with crediting, and he would later do his own version of Living In A Box. I have never been able - or, more truthfully, had the inclination - to decipher how the two acts knew each other.

The fourth and final single from the album, Love Is The Art, failed to reach the Top 40, and yet was probably the strongest song on the whole album. The album certainly had a couple of decent melodies therein - although the excellent Superheroes only made the CD edition, oddly, at a time when most of us were still buying vinyl or cassette versions of our music - and it was reviewed mainly through duty without any great excitement or cruelty attached. The photography was good, mind.

Living In A Box returned at the start of 1989 with the amateurish Blow The House Down, a ploddy and tedious record which nonetheless restored them to the Top 10, possibly because Queen lunatics felt compelled to buy it as Brian May had been cajoled into guitar solo duties. The three minute funk effort Gatecrashing, the title track, was a far better record but was banned from all airplay as it coincided with the Hillsborough tragedy, and duly only just made it into the Top 40. One thing these two songs did have in common were brilliantly - and deliberately - bollocks B-sides, both of which never went near the album but did have a charm to them - respectively they were called Dance The Mayonnaise and Get On The Dog Doza.

Then along came Room In Your Heart, the drippiness of which earned it a solid climb, week on week, from No.40 to No.5. Darbyshire chose not to stand up from his torch song stool for the guitar solo on Top Of The Pops, something which a number of DJs and pop columnists, in the absence of anything else to discuss, wondered about the next day. Upon its decline, a song called Different Air was released which just missed out on the Top 40, despite an appearance on peak-time Wogan. It was one up on the tempo stakes from its predecessor, and perhaps releasing two ballads in a row was an error, especially as the excellent Unique - used as a TV theme for a lifestyle programme and I can't for the life of me remember what it was called - was a standout single from the album - and the opener too - and yet never got issued.

Something went wrong at Chrysalis, their record company, the following year and we never heard from Living In A Box again, barring an appearance on the Little And Large Show to mime the affable album track Touch Sensitive for no discernible reason. I remember Darbyshire doing some solo stuff - When Only Love Will Do was a single which Radio 1 played for a bit - but nothing more, beyond the sessions stuff. The other two - Marcus Vere and Anthony Critchlow - remained as anonymous on the street as they somehow managed on the telly.

I've embedded the video for Room In Your Heart, as you can see, but I'm not sure if I've ever actually watched it.


JM said...

Gatecrashing wasn't so much subject to an airplay ban as put back for a month, for fear that people would start making Hillsbrough connections.

Given that Liverpool fans have spent the past two decades hysterically insisting that no gatecrashing took place and it was all the fault of the evil police, I can't help but marvel at the irony of it.

Meanwhile any love I once had for Blow The House Down was crushed forever when Su Pollard performed her own version to open the Children's Royal Variety Performance that Easter.

Jon Peake said...

That most be the most words ever written on Living In A Box and it's still way too much.

I never liked them, I'm afraid. I thought there sound was over-produced, soulless and rather hollow. And Richard Darbyshire clearly fancied himself.

But, hey, that's just my opinion.

Valentine Suicide said...

I think it's...

Oh, what's the point. You know what I think!

Matthew Rudd said...