Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Beautiful South - Choke (1990)


Released November 1990

The Beautiful South, after a critically-acclaimed debut album that saw them hailed as the equal of The Smiths in the love/hate sardonic/cynical/Northern down-to-earth wit stakes, found themselves facing a bit of a backlash with this follow-up. As is often the way with witty, observational artists, they pretty soon get condemned for being “too clever”, “pretentious”, “smug” or “too cynical”. This was a bit of a shame, because there is some uniquely impressive material on here. Singer and leading light Paul Heaton, however, one suspects, loved the fact they were getting people’s backs up. It was in his DNA. I have loved the guy’s lyrics and vocal delivery for nearly thirty years, yet I probably wouldn’t want to spend more than thirty minutes in his company.

The typically-catchy “Tonight I Fancy Myself” is full delightfully dreadful images in the lyrics and a barrel-full of wry wit. Similarly “My Book” has a punchy, Motown-ish beat to it and some great lyrics, like these:-

“This is my life and this is how it reads
A documentary that nobody believes
Albert Steptoe in "Gone with the Breeze"
Mother played by Peter Beardsley, father by John Cleese…”

“Let Love Speak Up Itself” is melodic, beautiful, sad and cynical all rolled into one. Heaven knows what it is about, it seems dark and disturbing, but its delightful strains once aain make one forget all about the lyrics in an odd way, but then that sadness comes back again via Paul Heaton’s plaintive, lamenting vocals. This was a unique thing The Beautiful South were able to inspire as you listen to them. Sadness and joy simultaneously. The final vocal and brass solo is sumptuous. Heaton ends up sounding like a high-pitched Northern Otis Redding.

“Should’ve Kept My Eyes Shut” has a lovely vocal from Brianna Corrigan and a huge punchy brass riff. The orchestration and vocal tone when she sings “and she’ll choke…” is just so moving. Nobody did beautifully sardonic songs like The Beautiful South. So many of their songs just make me feel terribly sad, despite the often irresistibly poppy melodies. Even the very short and plaintive “Lips” has the same effect. “I’ve Come For My Reward” has more of that Motown-influenced beat. “I Think The Answer’s Yes” is a glorious piece of South-ism with name-checks for “poor old U2” and “poor old Simple Minds” - already condemned as washed-out old dinosaurs.

The big hit single, featuring the iconic (for me anyway) voice of Brianna Corrigan was “A Little Time”, another masterpiece of anti-love in a song. The quality of songs drops off a little after this, I have always found, none of “Mother’s Pride”, “I Hate You (But You’re interesting)” (which sounds like something off Lou Reed's "Berlin") or “The Rising Of Grafton Street” have done much for me. The first eight songs, though, are classics of The Beautiful South’s own unique genre. The first three Beautiful South albums are notable for all ending with two mediocre, almost throwaway tracks, which is a strange thing.

This album is in dire need of a remastering, though. It sounds very thin, muffled and tinny, comparatively. Listen to "My Book" from the "Carry Up Up The Charts" compilation, much better. Why can't they do this to the whole album?


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