I was losing faith in music before The Housemartins rattled my cage. The New Romantics had left me cold, it was all about dressing up, not the songs and MTV meant even Top Of The Pops became a showcase for multi million pound videos on exotic islands. I sort refuge in the States, listening to Paisley Pop, IRS and Mitch Easter related bands.
The UK had become a wealth obsessed pile of self obsession. Bar the odd Aztec Camera or Icicle Works, none of what I heard related to my life. When you see every industry around you being closed down because it could be, a dole generation, someone singing on a yacht meant contempt. Then in 1986, I heard The Housemartins. This was great lo fi pop, beautifully and intelligently written, hints of Soul and Gospel, but at it's best when the three minute ditties were politicised. You could hare Thatcher tunefully. Me And The Farmer is probably my favourite single of the 80's.
By 1988, it was all over. Paul Heaton and Dave Hemmingway formed The Beautiful South. The choruses were still there, as was the acidic wit, but the music had greater depth, ranging from pop to easy listening, the bite was still there though. In a collection of songs known more for singing along to, the masterpiece is Let Love Speak Up Itself, a jazz tinged masterpiece.
For their fourth album, Miaow, Jacqui Abbott joined. This was a double bonus for me as Abbott is from my hometown St Helens. A Town that isn't famous for much now that the Glass has gone. She added a country tinge to the songs, another variation on the pop theme and songs such as Good As Gold, Don't Marry Her, Perfect Ten and Rotterdam became chart and fan favourites.
This was my favourite period for the band and after Jacqui Abbott left in 2000, the band continued until 2007 with diminishing returns. Paul Heaton's solo career was interesting, he could never be anything but, however it wasn't widely appreciated apart from those who took the time to listen.
In 2013 Heaton And Abbott reunited, culminating in the 2014 debut album from the duo, What Have We Become. The album is a real mix of styles, Abbott's voice is in wonderful form and it was Paul Heaton's best writing since the criminally underrated, Painting It Red. The album was a hit and I hoped for more.
2015's Wisdom Laughter And Lines continued the variation and the great mix of voices. There's even a Rock out on The Horse And Groom and some great pop on The Austerity Of Love. Overall the album is more reflective, perhaps a tad too much. So what about their third album?
So we reach 2017 and the good news is that Crooked Calypso is probably the best album of the three thus far. There is certainly less quirky pop. Heaton's writing is as bitter sweet as ever, but this feels very much like Abbott's album. Her voice is in fine form and she leads on the more memorable songs.
There's a real soul tinge on the album, Gospel Soul on I Gotta praise, Disco on He Wants To, which is very much in Sharlene Spiteri territory. She's Got The Garden is one of those bitter relationship rants, lyrically superb, to a Motown beat. It's Philadelphia late 70's on People Like Us.
Blackwater Banks is Irish Folk, The Lord Is A White Con is all Brother Lee Love, Silence Is Blue Mink with reminders of Ob-La-De Ob-La-Da. Love Makes You Happy is all Roy Orbison backdrop. He Can't Marry Her is the sort of big ballad that Glen Campbell was noted for. It could be a Jimmy Webb song.That's not to say the Pop isn't sprinkled around. Your Bit Of Stuff is classic Housemartins and The Fatman is a real romp through the best of Beautiful South.
The Deluxe Edition adds four songs and it gets even more interesting here. Since My Dearest Husband is all jaunty Brass with a killer chorus, The Future Mrs Heaton is lounge Jazz, the sort of moody ballad that Heaton does so well. Market Street is a 9 minute calypso. The Dice keeps that feel with a shorter more melodic bite. think 10CC's From Rochdale to Ocho Rios.
The Deluxe Edition is the one to buy, although 16 songs may be a little much for the casual listener, the additional four add a lot of variance. Heaton's songwriting remains as wonderful as ever, he's one of the better lyricists that this country has produced and the blend of voices works beautifully. Finally the band seem far more accomplished than Beautiful South days and the arrangements have more depth.
Highly recommended, Crooked Calypso is a fine album, a reminder that talent will out in these days of manufactured mediocrity. You can buy the physical product here and the download is available everywhere.