25th May, 2008

beautiful-south-choke-230277Welcome to the Beautiful South introduced the world to jangly indie-pop with a twisted lyrical edge. Choke continues this theme, and cements Paul Heaton’s reputation as an incredibly gifted song-writer.

‘Tonight I Fancy Myself’ sets the tone of the album perfectly. A song about a couple in denial set to ridiculously upbeat guitars and joyful trumpets, Heaton’s disturbing and bathetic lyrics are the main showpiece;

“Later in the evening, the sun came rolling down
And they talked about their fantasies and fears
Between the heavy breathing and those lighter licking sounds
I heard him whisper this question in her ear;
‘Would you still love me if I lost my legs?”

Vocal interplay between Briana Corrigan and Heaton intensifies the storyline, ending with the admittance that;

“With a choice between loneliness and love-sick QE2’s
Well tonight I choose – self-abuse”

And with that ends the template for the album, an album which seems determined to give Morrissey a run for his money. ‘My Book’s instrumental work might be refreshingly jazzy for an indie fan, but again the lyrics stand out, with “there was going to be a film but the camera person slipped”, “we’ve had some ugly babies but none were quite like you” and “it looks as if the nose and chin are definitely here to stay” being the highlights. The video’s worth checking out, too. ‘I Think The Answer’s Yes’ beautiful trumpet melodies and piano harmonies show that the band has more than one creative avenue, and their ability to compliment yet not distract from…

I’m walking through these pastures
I’m picking up sweet fruit
I’m shaking hands with people
That previously I’d shoot”

…is a brilliant display of restraint mixed with creativity. But this album isn’t all about grumpy-old-man English sarcasm.

The Beautiful South’s only number one hit in the UK, and possibly the best example of Heaton’s strong storylines, ‘A Little Time’ tells the story of the end of a relationship, perfectly presenting feelings of anger, indecision, hate and despair, all to the background of lush keyboard and guitar arrangements, with no clichés whatsoever. Seemingly written for Briana’s voice, the pair pull off a heart-achingly emotional performance, creating the best track on the album by far, and possibly the band’s best song.

Moving away from ruined lives and relationships, ‘I’ve Come For My Award’ enters the world of business and dodgy-dealings. The guitar lines sound very much like they were lifted from a Smiths album, and then given some of the band’s trademark jazzy swagger, and the lyrics, as ever, are exemplary; “I took on your free enterprise and your pretty little shops; walked in with empty bags, and walked out with the lot”.

Choke was a reference to the number of bands who put out a promising debut, only to follow with an absolute disaster. Perhaps this album was titled with a degree of irony in mind; The Beautiful South’s second offering does nothing of the sort. Three tracks from this album made the band’s first best of, Carry on up the Charts, and the album itself hit number two in England. A must for any fan, but also a great starting point too.

8/10

Published on sputnikmusic, May 2008 http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=8478