Paul Heaton will be best know to most as the former front man with the Beautiful South and the Housemartins but this is not his first foray as a solo artist with the album Fat Chance released under the name of Biscuit Boy and 2008's self titled release The Cross Eyed Rambler. Both these albums failed to capture the public imagination, so will his new album Acid Country fare any better?
The songs on here will appeal far more to fans of the Beautiful South than any Housematins aficionados. It is pop with a bit of Americana and folk thrown into the mix. Heaton's voice is as distinctive as ever and his ability to write witty, cutting and intelligent lyrics is stronger than ever and it is this that makes this album for me. This is a record that Heaton sounds like he enjoyed making and it has been some time since that could be said.
There is a feel to this record that hankers for times past. Opener The Old Radio reads like a snippet from an American history book and It's A Young Man's Game laments to what used to be 'Up North'. The vocal interaction with Ruth Skipper on Even A Palm Tree is biting, perhaps even auto biographic, and shows Heaton to be at the top of his lyrical game. On Welcome To The South he fires a condescending shot across the bow of the South of England and all its ideal and personality sapping negativity with all the jollity of George Formby. There is a theme developing here.
If you are looking for a life affirming and uplifting album then this is not the record for you. Then again even at his most commercial days with Beautiful South, Heaton was never one for the happy song. His trademark songs, of sorts, of marital strife are here in force with the swooning This House being the pick of the bunch. When he sings 'This house needs a cat to kick instead of poor old me' you know you are in reassuringly familiar downbeat territory.
The standout track for my money is the epic title track Acid Country which is Heaton's take on modern Britain, our preconceptions and stereotypes all backed with a constantly changing soundtrack ranging from Americana to Eastern European folk to electronica and back again.
This album is grower that requires a few listens before it's gloomy charms are unveiled and having the accompanying lyric booklet on hand will certainly help. Heaton proves he has all the abilities to challenge Morrissey for Britain's most cherished miserable old bugger. Don't expect to hear this on the radio or reams of column inches in the national press as it is unlikely to happen. Pity, as Heaton needs to be cherished for the bard that he is.