Picks and Pans Review: 0898-the Beautiful South
The third (and best) outing from this British group mixes sweet pop music with insidious lyrics. It starts with the best pop melodies you can hum—sort of like Elton John Does Detroit. Harmonious piano arrangements blend with songwriter Paul Heaton's soulful vocals and occasional backing horns to create 12 songs that work like aural lithium.
One hit and you're happy for hours. Until you actually listen to what Heaton and his two co-lead vocalists, Dave Hemingway and Briana Corrigan, are saying. The tunes suggest light, happy odes to love. The words are dark, sardonic musings on human nature.
The bubbly bounce of "Old Red Eyes Is Back," for instance, hides the story of a hopeless alcoholic. The lover in the gentle "Something That You Said" announces that "The perfect love song it has no words/It only has death threats." "We Are Each Other" features sued soul and a husband and wife who have been together so long, they're "closer than a cat to the child that she'll smother."
These minor melodramas aren't exactly the variety of glib pleasantries you'd expect such easygoing music to be delivering, but the ability to use the standard pop format to sneak in something new is the sign of a truly exceptional band. It's well worth taking a trip to the Beautiful South. (Elektra)