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Album: Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - Manchester Calling | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - Manchester Calling

Album: Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - Manchester Calling

Heaton scabrously mourns the greed-mutilated North, but finds pride in disappointment

The new Manchester, worse than the old Manchester

Paul Heaton’s career-spanning compilation The Last King of Pop depicted him crowned and enthroned like a Salford Solomon Burke, or self-aware Michael Jackson.

The unique kingdom he has staked out through The Housemartins and The Beautiful South is peopled by the unglamorous and unhip, and secretes bile in bumptiously bouncing, infectious melodies. The return of latter-day South singer Jacqui Abbott for four albums now has commercially shored up his career, and helped define Heaton’s happily married, mostly sober, Greater Manchester-residing middle-age. But though he pays tribute to this comforting home life here in the likes of “My Legal High”, he’s still mostly concerned with disappointment, and the shifting iterations of yuppie avarice.

Abbott doesn’t possess the spiky, oppositional persona of original South singer Briana Corrigan, the spur in the side missed after their first three, best albums. Instead she inhabits the women Heaton writes so well with noble conviction. “If You Could See Your Faults” is a great song about the unrewarded strength required in a sagging, near-abusive relationship: making the best of where you end up. “I ask myself what’s better/ To be ignored, or to be used”, Abbott muses. It’s the ballad mode reaching the end of the road, Heaton in excelsis. “The Prison”, too, with its ‘70s soul strings, considers “a woman’s overriding right to fuck her life right up”, waiting too long for non-existent Mr Right in a world loaded against her by “cheap restaurants, expensive deodorants”.

Heaton takes the lead on numerous knottily funny character sketches of fools and failures, such as the Harry Worth-like small-timer in the glam stomp of “Big News In a Little World”. Current co-writer Jonny Lexus can’t resurrect the range and sharpness of early South tunes with Dave Rotheray; instead they bounce along in now familiar style, alighting on country, glam and soul like memories of a long-gone disco.

And yet amidst this cosy familiarity, Heaton also defined our ruinous decade right at its start with the scabrous broadside of Acid Country (2010), matched only by Jarvis Cocker’s “Cunts Are Still Running the World” in calling out our conned, dangerous malaise by name. “MCR Calling” now sees him zero in on his adopted Manchester home as it’s hollowed out by property developers “pulling down the last building that anybody actually liked”. Programming shifts the music into haunted, grinding hip-hop as dodgy, dour voices declaim old Manchester’s dubious charms, when “it was always 'Wrote for Luck'/Never, ever 'Let It Be'”. Heaton favours “Bernard Manning spitting bile on Comic Relief” over cosy Cold Feet, and ends with a piquant vision of “Gary Neville’s head on a spike” (“Phil Collins must die” was an earlier chorus; there’s a touch of Salford’s Mark E Smith in his ruthlessly amused contempt).

There’s always the feeling that Heaton could be more: a clearly great, musically expansive figure beyond his cloistered, snug bar world. But no one else does this.

He’s still mostly concerned with disappointment, and the shifting iterations of yuppie avarice


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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