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The Blue South - A Beautiful and Colourful Effort
Blue Is The Colour - The Beautiful South
Member Name: Hishyeness
Blue Is The Colour - The Beautiful South
Advantages: A lyrical and melodical masterpiece with hidden depth
Disadvantages: Dark and seedy themes may not suit all tastes
It is beyond doubt - in my mind at least - that a good song is formed of that rare combination of melody and lyrics. In my view, a song that sounds good but has no lyrical depth has little staying power - melody appeals to the heart, but lyrics are what engage the brain. To belabour the point just one stage further, the melody attracts you, but the lyrics are what ultimately keep you interested.
Indeed, it was the catchy melodies and compelling hooks that drew me to the music of the Beautiful South in the first place, but even after listening to their songs and albums countless times over the years, each listen is still rewarded with new discoveries, new nuances and new revelations. My favourite Beautiful South album (despite the regrettable name - I am an Arsenal fan after all) is "Blue Is The Colour", released in 1996.
A BIT ABOUT THE BAND
The Beautiful South - most often described as an alternative rock group - were formed in the late 1980's out of the ashes of the Housemartins. Founded by Paul Heaton (singer and main songwriter) and Dave Hemingway (lead vocalist), they were joined by Sean Welch (bass), Dave Stead (drums) and Dave Rotheray (guitar).
The band has had various female vocalists throughout their career - originally Briana Corrigan (1988 to 1994) and then Jacqui Abbot (1994 to 2000), before Alison Wheeler joined the band for its last three years (2003 to 2007). Many of the songs on this album - "Blue is the Colour" - are fronted by Abbot, who was arguably the most successful of the three female vocalists.
The band produced ten studio albums over their 19 year career, finally breaking up in 2007, citing "musical similarities". As such, their break-up was achieved with the same characteristic wit and tongue in cheek insouciance that positively infected most of their music.
A BIT ABOUT THE ALBUM
Never has an album been so aptly named. The themes explored on this album - as well as the manner in which they are melodically and lyrically delivered - are "blue" in every sense of the word. Whether it's the timeless and overtly sexual themes of love, lust, and betrayal, or a reference to an emotional state of being, this album covers it all.
Despite that, it's not hard to listen to, as the Beautiful South use the melody of their songs to lighten what would otherwise have been an unbearably dark and moody effort. The heavy themes are lifted by the wit, humour and sarcasm employed by the band in their songs. It won't be to everyone's taste, but for those looking for a bit of depth to their music, you could do a lot worse.
Blue is The Colour was released in 1996 and is the bands fifth studio album. It was received as both a commercial and critical success, hitting No.1 in the UK album charts in November 1996. It spawned four singles - the most successful of which were "Rotterdam" (No.5) and "Don't Marry Her" (No.8). The lyrics of the latter were altered for mass market airplay ("f*ck me" changed to "have me" and "sweaty b*ll*cks" bizarrely became "Sandra Bullock's").
The CD includes an insert with song lyrics and a smattering of information on the band. Interestingly, although all of the lyrics are printed in English, they are also printed in one other language on the facing page (Arabic, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, German and Italian amongst others). The CD is currently available on Amazon.co.uk for a bargain £4.98 and (obviously) carries a warning for explicit lyrics.
> Don't Marry Her
The album opens with the guitar led, tongue in cheek ditty "Don't Marry Her" sung with understated, but scathing sarcasm by Jacqui Abbot. Told from the perspective of a kept woman, waiting patiently for her married family man to turn up for their weekly assignations, the song is full of some lyrical gems ("She's a PhD in "I told you so", you've a knighthood in "I'm not listening"...).
It works because it's so matter of fact - so full of references to the monotony of everyday life. A superb example of Beautiful South at their melodic and lyrical best - the song hooks you in with a catchy melody, but its lyrics reward a careful listen.
"And the Sunday sun shines down on San Francisco bay and you realise you can't make it anyway. You have to wash the car, take the kiddies to the park - don't marry her, f*ck me."
This is another understated effort by Abbot that opens with an engaging guitar riff before the snare drum kicks in to give it drive and impetus. However, the frivolity and lightness of melody hides a much darker subject matter. This time, she sings from the perspective of a world-weary prostitute, thinking and commenting about her clientele ("They could be fat, they could be thin, they could be black, they could be white...).
As she sings the words, it's clear that she deals with her unhappy situation by externalising ("not much a girl can do but open and close...") while wishing for something better, but never convincing the listener that she has the will to extract herself from her current situation.
"They do have feelings, but just right now I feel a feminine receptacle, that's just what I am... just the best target practice for a misguided man..."
> Liar's Bar
In turns difficult to listen to, and at otherwise strangely compelling, this unashamedly brutal song about alcoholism is delivered dramatically and convincingly by singer Paul Heaton in a style reminiscent of the legendary, gravel voiced Tom Waits. Accompanied by a simple, bluesy, swaying guitar and piano led backing track, you find yourself strangely unbalanced, staggering about and seeing life through the inebriated haze of the narrator.
"I'm a travelling businessman, I just stopped in for one drink - you'll find that I'm not like the other men - their noses are red and mine is only pink..."
> Rotterdam (Or Anywhere)
Probably the lightest song on the album, it's not surprising this succeeded as a single. Abbot leads on vocals, backed at times by guitars, accordion, violins and various other instruments, which creates a slightly international, worldly atmosphere to the song. At first it sounds like an observational piece, as the singer comments unflatteringly about the denizens of a club, café or bar (most likely the latter) remarking about the universality of the situation (hence the chorus - "this could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome..") but the lyrics - which are probably the most ambiguous on the album - could be about a lot of things - it's up to the listener to decide.
"And the women tug their hair like they're trying to prove it won't fall out, and all the men are gargoyles dipped long in Irish stout."
This song contains one of my favourite ever lyrics, but more on that later. This is a largely autobiographical song inspired (if that's the right word) by Paul Heaton's life experiences at the time. An ode to loneliness that is in turns comical, self-deprecating and despairing ("He knows hello in eighteen languages, "I love you" in only one - by the time he's got his phrasebook, the chance is usually gone.")
It's a remarkable effort with a bluesy backing track perfectly accompanying Heaton's wistful and ever so slightly desperate voice. A catchy chorus and a foot tapping melody - allied to the exceptionally perceptive lyrics - make this a perfect end to an outstanding album. As for that lyric told you about?
"And you can tell where we've been shopping by the bags beneath our eyes..."
Blue is the Colour is my favourite Beautiful South album and its easy to understand why it was such a success despite its dark (and arguably depressing) content. However, the band skilfully lighten the mood whilst never betraying the impact of their song writing.
Consistently good, with nothing you could describe as a truly duff track, if you buy one album from the band (other than "Carry on Up the Charts" released in 1994 - their best compilation) I would argue that this is the one to go for. It is a varied, mature effort that rewards repeated listens. Recommended.
"And we only smoke when bored, so we do two packs a day, and we've lost the difference between bored and lonely anyway..."
FULL TRACK LISTING
1. "Don't Marry Her" (3:23)
2. "Little Blue" (3:17)
3. "Mirror" (4:05)
4. "Blackbird on the Wire" (4:57)
5. "The Sound of North America" (4:02)
6. "Have Fun" (4:44)
7. "Liars' Bar" (5:53)
8. "Rotterdam (or Anywhere)" (3:37)
9. "Foundations" (2:44)
10. "Artificial Flowers" (3:58)
11. "One God" (4:12)
12. "Alone" (4:58)
Summary: Beautiful South at their best