Album Reviews

How We Live: Dry Land (Esoteric Recordings)

dry-land

How We Live
Dry Land
Esoteric Recordings

If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from the bands and artists we cover here, it’s this: never mistake rotten luck for lack of talent. So many musicians got put through the rock and roll wringer, and often for reasons that had little—if anything—to do with the actual music involved. How We Live’s story is that of a band whose members were chewed and spit out in one band, regrouped, and then went through it all over again.

The genesis of How We Live is the story of the ill-fated New Wave band Europeans. Formed in the early 80s, they were signed to A&M Records on the strength of the material that constituted their debut album, Vocabulary—wry, upbeat New Wave pop with more than a few hints of a burgeoning capability for complex arrangements and intelligent lyrics. Their second album, Recurring Dreams, came the following year, and was a massive leap forward. Though still retaining their pop sensibilities, the music had grown darker, heavier, and more introspective; vocalist Steve Hogarth’s style was detached yet warm, not unlike Mark Hollis or Paul Buchanan.  Recurring Dreams was an artier affair, but its lack of sales didn’t help their relationship within the label, and they were unceremoniously dropped.

Though they broke up, labels were still interested in Hogarth’s talents, and when he formed How We Live with ex-European Colin Woore, it didn’t take too long for them to get a record deal with Portrait, who then put them in the studio with David Lord—who incidentally had produced Europeans’ two albums. The seeming “failure” of Recurring Dreams always felt unfortunate—that the band didn’t get the proper chance to explore a compelling new sound, one that might reward both label and listeners with innovative new sounds.

Dry Land, released in 1987, definitely expanded upon and continued Recurring Dreams’ sonic explorations. David Lord’s production is supple, lush, and evocative of a dream-like state; Hogarth’s singing is equally soft and tender, resulting in songs that are a little gray and melancholic but nothing less than compelling. That’s not to suggest they’re without a groove; “All The Time In The World,” “The Rainbow Room,” and b-side “English Summer” are uptempo rockers that serve nicely to temper the overall mellowness of the rest of Dry Land. “Games In Germany” offers up a mature rock tempered by Hogarth’s beautiful voice, and sounds like the hit it should have been thirty years ago. It—and the rest of Dry Land, truthfully—could have (and should have) given chart-toppers Peter Gabriel (also a David Lord production), Genesis, and Talk Talk a run for their money.

Dry Land is big, innovative rock music with both a pop sensibility and a progressive rock soul, and should of is a phrase that gets bandied about with music this great. Unfortunately, once again label problems developed, and the album went largely unheard. Successful tour opening slots and festival performances didn’t help their cause, and as quickly as they formed and appeared, they were no more, with Hogarth plotting to quit music altogether to return to normal working-class life. But once again, in his darkest hour, fate once again tapped on his shoulder, and he was asked to join British prog-pop legends Marillion; he did, and has remained their primary songwriter and frontman ever since. It was a good fit, too; their first album with him, 1989s Seasons End is almost a note-perfect continuation of Dry Land’s brilliance. (In fact, for their 1991 album Holidays In Eden, they recorded an excellent version of “Dry Land.”)

How We Live might have been short-lived, and Dry Land might have been an afterthought, but its existence gave Hogarth the career he wanted—Marillion had been impressesd with Dry Land and sought him out as a result. That it’s a superior album in its own right—as well as a harbinger of what Marillion would become under his leadership—is merely a boon for both the band and for the listener. Rare is the instance where an artist gets a third chance, but Hogarth did, as Dry Land is an album that definitely warranted it, and this reissue makes the case for it being one of the great lost albums of the Eighties.

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