While the "Welleresque" twang of Moulding of a fool , and the by now familiar first single D.I.Y quickly confirm a Heaton masterpiece is unfolding , it is not until Some Dancing to do, that it becomes apparent what's been missing. Anyone who was on Paul's last Bicycle tour would have heard this tune in it's infancy, but the addition of a certain Jacqui Abbott to the mix lifts the song to a whole new level. Some things can't be explained.. It just works.
A reinvigorated Heaton, stomps through One Man's England with a Housemartins type rawness and simplicity , with Abbott adding the harmonies/chorus. Brilliant.
And it goes on. Costa Del Sombre, another song familiar to Heaton fans for a couple of years now, benefits hugely from the Boy/Girl interaction which seems to have Heaton, back in his comfort zone.
But the best is yet to come. Title track What have we become, and When it was Ours are both pure Heaton magic, seeing Paul dip into familiar territory, with commentaries on relationships and societal issues, but delivered with a new vulnerability in Paul's tone, which combined with the beautiful harmonies and arrangements and of course Jacqui's vocal make these two tracks as good if not better than anything Heaton has ever recorded.
There are other gems such as the Snowman, in what for long term Heaton fans, is an album, which delivers on the promise of Acid Country, and The Cross Eyed Rambler. They can turn to their friends and say, told you so!
In summary, almost 30 years in the making, a somehow content sounding Mr Heaton, surrounded by familiar faces, delivers an album in his own name , that stands proud with his back catalogue, and indeed ,maybe, just maybe is the jewel in the crown.
The wine has aged rather well. John Conran
Premiere: Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - 'What Have We Become' interview
An intimate chat ... Robin Murray
One of this country’s most successful songwriters, Paul Heaton spent some two decades ruling the charts with softly melancholic, deeply witty pop music.
Returning to the partnership which initially fuelled The Beautiful South, the Northern talent recently sat down with Jacqui Abbott to focus on new material. The results are gathered on ‘What Have We Become’ and it’s a wonderfully personable, at times uproariously funny, document.
Out today (May 19th) the album veers from commentary on contemporary Britain to musings on the shifting pop landscape – whilst also touching on personal climes.
“Working with Jacqui again was like going into your garage and discovering a beautiful, covered up Rolls Royce that hadn't been started in years” Heaton says. “Jacqui is one of the best singers I've worked with and is also part of my past. It was only a matter of time before I asked her.”
“I always wrote songs with Jacqui in mind” he continues. “Even before I met her I pictured a voice that could carry the songs into people's hearts in a particular way. When I first heard her sing I almost laughed because it was SO right for the songs.”
With the album available to purchase now (pre-order link), Clash has obtained an intimate video chat with the pair. Frank and open about the working process behind their new album, it aptly demonstrates the chemistry between Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott.
Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott - What Have We Become ***** by David Meller On seeing the reunited Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott last month at Heaton’s Salford pub The Kings Arms, Abbott was rather unrecognisable. Gone was the short bob that characterised her in the ’90s in videos for Perfect 10 and the like, and in was long hair. A fresh look. Heaton, meanwhile, looked largely the same, the cheeky, mischievous attitude still visible. Indeed, Heaton has been a familiar figure around south Manchester for years now. He’s even been to some Stockport County games despite his allegiance to Sheffield United.
This notion of the recognisable is important because, on seeing Heaton and Abbott together again and hearing bits of What Have We Become live, it’s as if they’ve never really been apart: there’s a sort of re-awakening, a resumption of where things sort of left off. Heaton said of Abbott that “it was like going into your garage and discovering a beautiful, covered up Rolls Royce that hadn’t been started in years… I always wrote songs with Jacqui in mind. Even before I met her I pictured a voice that could carry the songs into people’s hearts in a particular way”.
It’s hard to disagree with his sentiment. Recent single D.I.Y has all the hallmarks of Beautiful South past, albeit certainly not a nostalgia trip. Rather, it contains that same sort of Heatonesque razor-sharp-cum-melancholy bittersweet wit, delivered through Abbott’s typically self-assured, almost streetwise-sounding vocal. But there’s a fresh and rather invigorating sound/production to this as well, largely thanks to the jangling and clean electric guitar, coupled with sprinklings of piano. Usual Heaton features yes, but sounding renewed.
Some Dancing To Do brings a touch of melodrama with its heavy keys, drums and trumpet. All necessary, mind, as it details the collapse of a relationship – perhaps the most melodramatic of experiences – with Abbott and Heaton taking the positions of almost omniscient observers, commenting on the anguish of the party on the end of a break-up. Abbott takes a naturally cooler stance, while Heaton exercises his characteristically gentle yet subtly powerful vocal before offering a typically wry solution: “She’s got some dancing to do.” Ah yes, the restorative impact of music and dancing doesn’t often fail.
Title track What Have We Become again carries on a trusted formula of the past by fusing the bittersweet with hints of social commentary; lyrics such as “‘What have we become?’ said the mother to the half-ton son, chicken wings have replaced the fun” and “the world is made of botox, there’s no heart to break” suggest a society driven by consumption and a lack of emotion. Yet behind this is a degree of subtle grandeur through the use of strings, perhaps a lingering reminder of a time before. “We’re so busy loving it we’ve forgotten to hate… opinionless, sad and overweight,” sings Heaton.
This aspect of social commentary ripples through What Have We Become. The brilliant hook-driven opener Moulding Of A Fool, with lyrics such as “your death will pass unnoticed like a hiccup or a cough”, are perhaps pointed barbs to certain politicians of a right-wing persuasion, while One Man’s England arrives as an appropriate time politically as immigration sits again at the top of the political agenda, with Heaton chronicling the complexities of race, multi-culturalism and British identity while Abbott delivers ’60s-pop “do-dos” and the horns blare in the background. They add a bit of two-tone to it. No doubt intentionally.
Album closer When I Get Back To Blighty carries a sort of cool ’50s rock ‘n’ roll swagger alongside lyrics like “this country is out on the lash” and allusions to backstreet pubs, shock and awe and that “everyone around us agrees that Phil Collins must die… a prisoner to his tax returns”. That raised a chortle; it comes from nowhere and is delivered with willing, almost pleasurable conviction by Abbott.
Heaton and Abbott are firing like old on What Have We Become, with elements from The Housemartins – particularly the social commentary - and obviously The Beautiful South evident here. But there’s a real freshness here, too. Much like Abbott on-stage at The Kings Arms last month, some bits seem unfamiliar but it’s ultimately recognisable while also feeling rejuvenated. Yes, Heaton’s Rolls Royce analogy is a good and accurate one. The engine purrs again.
Paul and Jacqui will be interviewed live on BBC Breakfast from 08:30am. If you missed the show, you can catch it again here.
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