REVIEW: Big House – Big House (1991 BMG)

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BIG HOUSE – Big House (1991 BMG) Not to be confused with the country band also called Big House.

BIG HOUSEBig House hit the ground running out of Edmonton, Alberta in 1991, but it was hard to take them seriously at the time.  The hair and headbands were pretty silly, and they had annoying song titles such as “Refuse 2 Run” and “Nothing Comes 4 Free”.  I acknowledged they had a pretty cool single “Dollar in My Pocket (Pretty Things)”.  This was lifted from a prior EP called Pretty Things, very hard to find.  They also claimed to be former punk rockers.  Drummer Sjor (pronounced Shore) Throndson once stated that the band used to have mohawks when they were teenagers, but shaved them off and had a change of musical direction.  With that, the silly hair and the dumb name, it was pretty easy to ignore Big House.

Then a co-worker at the Record Store named Kam talked me into listening to it.  The year was 2005 and my feelings quickly turned from indifference to delight.  Big House, for all their flaws, were actually pretty good!  Every song on this album has swagger. It doesn’t sound like a debut album at all, and perhaps that’s due to the experience of having done a prior EP. The band, and singer Jan Ek in particular, make this sound like a second or third album.

“Dollar in My Pocket” made for a good first single, but what a cheesey video. I still cringe at the 30 second mark, when Sjor glances flirtingly down towards his pants on the line, “I got a dollar in my pocket for you.” Fortunately, just a taste of their punk background shine through in the melodies, making this song a bit more unique than the crowd in 1991. Jan Ek has a good scream going on, and lungs of power. They had a knack for writing catchy guitar licks like the one in “Dollar in My Pocket”. The song is all about attitude, so “come along, you can have it if you want it, baby.”

The first chunk of the CD was top-loaded with singles. “All Nite” was a minor hit, a Motley-Poison mixture of rock thrills. Generic, but with that knack for melody once again, not to mention the leathery lungs of Jan Ek. Those two factors elevate the song beyond the morass of crap swimming in the seas of cheese in 1991. Another decent rocker, the Kiss-like “Refuse 2 Run” stays the course before you’re up for the next single, the ballad “Baby Doll”. Generic acoustic sentimental tacky stuff is this, but why do I like it? Maybe that quiet moaning slide guitar? Sounds a lot like Cinderella. Truthfully it’s not bad, but it’s really not that different from any of a hundred ballads. Thankfully “Can’t Cry Anymore” has some noisy guitar and plenty of attitude, especially in the punk rock blowout ending. Once again, it’s remarkable what a handle Big House had on writing great rock melodies. “Can’t Cry Anymore” is one of many on this disc.

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“Devil’s Road” sounds like the opening of a second side, and a strong opening it is. “So make the music faster, for the spells we’re castin'” sings Jan Ek on the fine choruses. None of these songs are particularly fast, but they all rock in one way or another. For example “Nothing Comes 4 Free” is slow, but has a menacing vibe and the requisite hooks on the chorus. The closest they get to filler is “Happiness” but even that is not bad. It’s an unusual cross of pop melody with classic rock guitars — Cheap Trick meets Kiss, perhaps?

Final track “Angel on My Arm” is a celebratory tough little rocker, but the penultimate track “L.A.” is my favourite of them all. It seems Mr. Ek’s girl has left to go to L.A. and a be big movie star, and isn’t coming back. But then Jan gets a long distance call from L.A. It seems she mis-dialed and got Jan when she expected to get “Jack”.  He responds incredulously, “Jack who?! Jack Palance? Jack Nicholson? Jack…Jack who?!” It’s great fun! Listen to that bouncy bass. That’s pop punk, baby. So are those unabashed “la-la-la-la” pop hooks. Just a killer, instantly likeable fun song is this. “I been drinkin’ with every damn girl in town,” sings Ek after the disappointing phone call. “If I seem a bit too forlorn, I’ve been loving her too long.” People, I’m serious: This song is a triumph of songwriting and execution. You are free to disagree, but all I know is that I have played this song on repeat countless times. In fact I’m doing it now. I’m already on spin #3 for this session.

Silly name and album cover aside, I suppose it all works as a package. It’s no wonder the band never made it big with a cover this horrible; imagine my shock when I saw that it was done by none other than Hugh Syme, master of many Rush records. And this faceless cover conceals within it one of the best hard rock albums of the era. Sadly that era died before Big House could make a second album, but let’s celebrate that we have this one. Just like we are glad for the first two Skid Row albums, or New Jersey by Bon Jovi, I’m happy now to have Big House in my, err, house.

4.5/5 stars

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26 comments

  1. Whoa! Didn’t where did this one come from!? Thought I was one of only a few who still owned this record HA!

    Nah, but do dig this actually purchased this about the time of release and fell hard for Dollar reckon played that one over and over beffore delving in further and sure hindsight suggests they shoulda eased up on the tack n’ roll ((it’s lyrically questionable to say the least) but for its time it was not only acceptable but the song kicked ass!

    Not essential by any means but a fun play and certainly a record I still drag out from time to time and forever bummed to have not gotten a sophomore Big House (was it just me but did Jan and the singer from P.O.D. have a similar tone and vocal sound/style hmmm?). Great production too… So I’m probably a 4 for this and didn’t dislike the cover, like the record itself was unique enough, otherwise count me in on board with what Mike says.

    Thanks for reviewing this one, very darn cool read consider me inspired to go place the Big House CD in my player right away! Good times – so ‘Oooh, come along’ :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well I’m glad we have this record in common! For me, being Canadian, it’s far more essential. Dollar in My Pocket was on MuchMusic all the time, as Deke said earlier. I have memories of these guys being all the rage. Good memories before the grunge wave!

      POD eh? That never would have occurred to me at all honestly! I’ve heard my fair share of POD, my wife used to be a fan.

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      1. Man how I wish we got those shows here DownUnder. Instead all our records discoveries were made via the rags and recommendations of friends or bought on a whim. McNeice (melodicrock.com) worked locally in a record store and would import everything. So each payday I would bus into town and check out the new stuff often buying unheard on his recommendation and Big House was one such record :)

        Big House Tyketto Slaughter Steelheart… So many great records and had to import metal compilations on video cassette at big expense from the US and UK to see most the film clips and whatnot…

        And not musically but yeah vocally, P.O.D. reminded me of Jan!? Perhaps it was just their style or natural voices or perhaps just me then LOL

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  2. I bought this on cassette tape back in 1991. The video on Much sold me on these guys. If they had come say two years earlier(1989) they could have gotten some traction with like you said a second album. But Big House folded like many others. Too bad..they could recut Loonie In My Pocket! Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice review, Mike. I like that the band are kinda like the Borrowers, though don’t reckon they needed to be so literal with the big house thing. Terrible band name, though. Reminds me of the band My Little Funhouse, actually. Irish band … you heard them?

    Aside from looking like typical 90’s hard rockers (the dude on the left looks like he’s auditioning for GN’R) I love that they use ‘vox’!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My Little Funhouse…the name is familiar but I don’t think they did much over here. I don’t think I remember who they are.

      Yeah, KB Broc with that headband! My God. Like how the hell does he make it go so high? It’s like Bret Michaels’ headband if it took viagara.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If I remember correctly, My Little Funhouse scored a deal with Geffen (?) who reckoned the had the next GN’R. Or so I read at some point. Didn’t work out so well.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember seeing this in the junk shop one time, and I wanna say I texted you to find out abou tit… but my memory more tells me I’d texted James to see what it was and if it had any value (I don’t have internet on my phone unless I’m near wifi). Anyway, I left it, and then I come here all this time later and it gets a 4.5/5 at Lebrains! Could be a missed opportunity there, then.

    “One of the best hard rock albums of the era”? Dammit, shoulda bought it.

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  5. They were a punk band around edmonton in the late 80s called down syndrome. Dunno the story about the genre switch. Edmontons a punk town that hates that era of glam metal for a reason I’ve never really understood, so I doubt they ever came back following the failure of this release.

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  6. I’ve never heard of this band Mike, but from your review I’m sure l would like them! I’ll have to check them out, oh, and bonus points for the band hailing from Canada. Nice review!

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    1. Hey Cory glad you enjoyed! I unfortunately missed out on these guys first time around. I knew who they were thanks to Much, but I didn’t hear the CD until a good 15 years later!

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  7. I listened to this album on cassette a lot back in the day. Thought was goofy but great. And just this past weekend, I finally found it on CD at a used CD store in Jasper, AB of all places. For $2.50, cannot go wrong. It’s still gloriously cheesy, and I annoyed the wife and kids with it on the trip home. I’ve searched, can’t find any info anywhere about any of the band members and what they’ve been up to since disbanding.

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