en: Acid Country [info]
Paul Heaton, through his work with The Beautiful South, was something of a national treasure during the 1990s. The band's wildly successful combination of satirical and acerbic lyrics over a background of melancholic, lush melodies was a winning formula, critically and commercially.
Three years on from The Beautiful South's disbandment, Heaton proves with his second solo LP that he's still capable of displaying a singularly ragged love of everyman Brit culture. Bombay mix, English cider and scampi bites all get a mention on the album's title-track, and scuffed relationships are explored and examined against backdrops of pleasantly twanging guitars.
However, Acid Country does sometimes feel a little too well worn. The sheer length of some of the tracks suggests that perhaps sessions weren't quite as productive as they could have been. Padding is in evidence on the 26-verse title-track and the seven-minute It's a Young Man's Game, where plaintive references to laundrettes and pound shops quickly tire without the song particularly going anywhere.
More worryingly, there is the gnawing feeling that Heaton is trading too much on past glories. The interesting choices of subject matter that Heaton would turn his hand to in the past - the Liberal Democrats in Oh Blackpool on 1989's Welcome to The Beautiful South album; female body discrimination in 1992's 36D single - are replaced here by Heaton's default mode of gentle guitars and Larkin-esque lyrical slabs of bleary eyed provincial vignettes.
Heaton is at his best when conjuring radio-friendly choruses, and Acid Country contains a gem of one in standout track The Ladder's Bottom Rung. It's a punchy, horn-driven temptress of a tune with our protagonist on superb lyrical form, telling of village churches burning down while the choir keeps singing, "the strange moral fibre of the ladder's bottom rung".
Heaton clearly still has creative fires in his northern beer belly. While Acid Country never matches the heights of The Beautiful South's output, it has just enough ebullience within to make this a decent stop gap before what will hopefully be a full-scale return to form.
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