Paul Heaton – Acid Country

Release Date 13/09/2010 (Proper Records)

By Simon A. Morrison

Paul Heaton has an undeniably light, melodic touch that underpinned all the Housemartins and Beautiful South material – perhaps not surprising when you discover he wasn’t actually born and bred in Hull, but Merseyside, the hotbed of jingly-jangly melody in this country.  The new album ‘Acid Country’ sees Heaton comfortable in his solo guise, and continues in much the same vein – light, pop-y, folk-sy tracks with perhaps a country twang coming more to the fore.

It’s that lightness that always proved problematic for me, both within the music and the vocals – an undeniably infectious tone, but at the higher end of the register, with little depth beneath.  Girlfriends always loved The Beautiful South and that was usually enough to put me off.

And indeed on a first play-through that seems to be the vibe on ‘Acid Country’ – perfectly pleasant song after utterly fine song, with nothing to really grab you by the lapel and swing you urgently around the room.  If you know The Beautiful South, you’re in the right ball-park here, down to the female counterpoint vocal.

As with many albums, a couple more plays and your ears are pricking up a little, the melodic hooks drawing you in.  Much of that is down to the lyrics – on tracks likeEven A Palm Tree’ and ‘Welcome To The South’ you are invited to listen properly, to figure out the lines.  For instance on the opening lyrics to ‘Even A Palm Tree’ does Heaton really sing: “I can’t find you attractive / unless I’ve had drugs”?  Yep, and it’s a belting way to open a track.

Paul Heaton is known to go into bat, lyrically speaking, for subjects such as socialism and hedonism, both admirable things to devote your life to, and enough to make any new album worth a listen.  I do wonder, however, whether Neil Hannon does humour better on the new Divine Comedy album; whether here on ‘Acid Country’, the whimsy is just a little too flimsy.

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