Friday, August 06, 2010

Paul Heaton 'Acid Country'

Following hot on the heels of his old mucker Dave Rotheray’s rather fine new album (The Life of Birds), ex Beautiful South-erner Paul Heaton returns with his latest offering ‘Acid Country’. As well as being blessed with the voice of a slightly world weary angel Paul is, of course, arguably one of the best lyricists this country’s ever produced. From his days as a Housemartin through to the chart eating Beautiful South he’s written some true classics (the Housemartin’s ‘Happy Hour’ and ‘Build’ and The South’s ‘Song for Whoever’, ‘You Keep It All In’ and ‘A Little Time’ all leap to mind...not a bad line up eh?). Acid Country sees him revisit some of his favourite subjects (booze, birds and Britain – the ‘acid country’ of the title I’m guessing) and, it has to be said, hit the kind of lyrical highs that saw him carry on up the charts on more than one occasion.

Take the album’s second track ‘Even a Palm Tree’, a savagely bitter (and pretty darn funny) song about the eternal battle of the sexes. Opening with the line “I can’t find you attractive unless I’ve had drugs” his female co-vocalist then responds with an equally barbed response. Men are from Hull, women are from London eh? Like some of his best stuff the bitterness is all wrapped up in a pretty jaunty tune, with swirly organs lending it a slightly psychedelic feel in places. In strong contrast Paul follows this up with a melancholy rumination on the loneliness of old age on ‘Young Man’s Game’, which probably won’t mean much to anyone under 30 but might well bring older listeners out in a cold sweat. It’s one of the album’s standout tracks and one of the most affecting songs of its kind since Sinatra’s ‘It Was a Very Good Year’. Elsewhere ‘Life of a Cat’ finds Paul wishing for a simpler life for all of us and, judging by his recent decision to cycle round pubs playing to audiences just a fraction of the size that he’s used to, it’s clearly a desire that he takes seriously.

This is simply one of those albums that begs to be listened to over and over again. I’ve given it a good half dozen spins so far and each time I’ve unearthed another lyrical gem. For example, the album ends with ‘Cold One In The Fridge’ (a dead cert for Alcoholics Anonymous’ anthem...should they ever feel the need to have one), with Heaton (who’s battles with the demon drink have been well documented) noting (lamenting?) the various tipples he’ll never again enjoy. “I shall never drink a beer in St Albans" he begins. Ain't that a great opening line? He then goes on to list pretty much every drink (and drinking venue) you can think of...all of which are now similarly out of bounds. Given his history it’s a brave song to write and sing and, I’m guessing, it’s a mark of a man who, whether this album sells a 100 or 100,000 copies, has the fortitude to 'carry on regardless'. If there’s any justice in the world it’ll sell by the shed load though...perhaps he’ll have to put that cat’s life on hold for a while longer eh?

Acid Country is out on 13th September on Proper Records and Mr Heaton hits the road throughout September on his own headlining tour before supporting Madness on their traditional end of the year pension top up in November and December.

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