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I have been a fan of Paul Heaton since 1986, when I first heard of The Housemartins. Their song Happy Hour got to number 3 in the Charts and I loved it. I remained a huge fan until their split in 1988. I saw them in concert in Nottingham and even got a signed photo from them and a handwritten letter from Norman Cook (now better known as Fatboy Slim).
Paul Heaton went on to form The Beautiful South, which had a career of almost twenty years and once again, I loved their (very different) musical style and bought all their albums and went to one of their concerts. When they split up in 2007, I then began following Paul's solo career.
In September 2010, Paul's third solo album Acid Country was released. I pre-ordered a signed copy online for £10 after only hearing an acoustic version of one of the tracks Life of a Cat, which he performed on The One Show. I loved the song and have a huge amount of affection for Paul himself. Despite him being rather shy, I had exchanged a few emails with Paul via Facebook and he had kindly sent me a signed photo.
But would Acid Country be any good? Paul's musical direction has changed since The Beautiful South (and it is a big change from The Housemartins style too) and I wondered if mine had altered in the same way?
Acid Country was released by Proper Records and has very distinctive cover art and a kind of cardboard effect to the packaging. There is also an insert booklet with the lyrics in (which I am pleased about, as I enjoy reading the words and singing along!). The album contains ten tracks, with a total running time of around fifty minutes and begins with The Old Radio, which is full of references to American culture, from the KKK to JFK and Ginger Rogers. It is quite slow and catchy, with rather a simple melody, but as is usually the case with Paul's songs, the lyrical content is much deeper than the music suggests. It is a good start to the CD and a song I enjoy listening to.
Even A Palm Tree is one of my favourite tracks. It is reminiscent of The Beautiful South's big 1990 hit A Little Time and Don't Marry Her from 1996 in that it is a male and female voice singing about the breakdown of their relationship with black humour. Ruth Skipper sings the girl's part here, with Paul doing the male's and it is beautifully catchy and cynical with plenty of clever observations.
This is followed by It's a Young Man's Game, which is slower and lasts almost seven minutes, so it is a long track. It has some beautiful lyrics again, and one verse I especially relate to, as it is one I quoted to my boyfriend just before we got together -
I can't fix no motorcar
I can't change no light
I can't do much anything
Than hold you close each night
It is a song about ageing and loneliness and as you would expect from the subjects, it is poignant and rather sad, which suits the tune and Paul's bluesy voice. On the final chorus, Paul is joined by other male voices and this doesn't work quite so well for me, but it's only a minor quibble and it remains a really good track.
The pace increases for the next track Welcome To The South, which is about the north-south divide in the UK and the differences between the classes. It is just over three minutes long and does feel quite a short song. I like it, but it's not a favourite as it just seems a bit throwaway and not as memorable as most of the others.
Track Five is Life Of A Cat and although I do prefer the acoustic version, this remains a gorgeous song. Cats seem to pop up quite a lot in this album, for some reason, but this one is about the complexities of modern life and how things would be much simpler if you were a cat. It is quite a simple sounding song and melody, quite romantic in some ways, but with the depth you would expect from a Paul Heaton song.
House Party begins with a mouthorgan melody reminiscent of some early Housemartins songs, but settles into an American country kind of style, while Paul sings about violence, sex and drugs. Another very clever song with some great lyrics and some wonderfully original rhymes. I love this verse -
There ain't nothing like a house party
Unite the workers with the glitterati
The deadly dull with the arty farty
The cool chianti with the warm fruscatti
This House sees Paul singing alongside a woman (though the credits don't make it clear whether it is Sally Ellyson or Dawn Landes?) and as you may expect, the house they are singing about is not a cosy thatched cottage in the country occupied by a happily married couple! Although it is clever and witty, I feel something is missing and it isn't a favourite of mine, though it's not bad enough to skip over.
The Ladder's Bottom Rung is an up-tempo, catchy track which you can't help but tap your feet to. It is another deep song about religion, desperation and coping with life. (Of course, Heaton's lyrics are open to interpretation - as with any creative work - but this is my take on it.)
Acid Country, the title track, is the ninth track on the album and lasts eight minutes. I love all the cultural references in this one, as it mentions so many things that could be associated with the United Kingdom. Besides, any song in which "the Cornish pasty" can be sung by a group of men deserves applause! The music is good too and goes really well with the lyrics, enhancing them without drowning them out. Despite being rather cute, it has a serious point, of course and some clever observations about class and upbringing. It manages to veer convincingly between ranting political views and poetic beauty, with some unusual little musical interludes too and I love it!
The final track begins with the intriguing line "I shall never drink a beer in St Albans" and continues with the same kind of humour, praising the virtues of avoiding alcohol in that way ex-alcoholics have. It is a catchy tune again, though quite a slow one, but the witty lyrics deserve attention and overall, it makes a damn good song and a fitting end to what is an excellent album.
My quick ratings -
The Old Radio - 8 out of 10
Even A Palm Tree - 9 out of 10
It's A Young Man's Game - 8.5 out of 10
Welcome To The South - 7 out of 10
Life Of A Cat - 9.5 out of 10
House Party - 8.5 out of 10
This House - 7 out of 10
The Ladder's Bottom Rung - 8 out of 10
Acid Country - 9 out of 10
A Cold One In The Fridge - 8.5 out of 10
I love this album and it has been one of my favourites to play, over the past six months I have owned it. I have also played it to others who have really enjoyed it and feel it is his best solo work to date. If you liked The Housemartins or The Beautiful South, buy Acid Country and I'm sure you won't be disappointed!
In my opinion, Paul Heaton is one of the most talented people in music. He writes beautiful, cynical, poetic songs about social and political topics, as well as 'standard' musical fare of love, hate and relationships. He has a stunning voice too. He is now 48 years old and I have been a fan of his for 25 years. I can't see that ever changing. He's fab.