Friday, October 31, 2008

Paul Heaton, The Cross Eyed Rambler

If I had a band these days, I'd want it to sound exactly like this. The return of Paul Heaton is like The Housemartins had never gone away. Or if they had, then it's as if they'd decided to come back with a crisper and more mature sound.

We'll say it loud and clear: disbanding the Beautiful South was the best thing Paul Heaton could have done. After the last few lacklustre releases and the increasing risk of starting to sound like the gifted lyricist to Enya's backing band, Heaton gets back to his roots, both musical and political, with his amazing solo album The Cross Eyed Rambler, positively his best stuff since 1990's Choke.

The first few tracks grab you exactly by the jaffas. There's the gentle gramophone-like opening, strategically followed by the red-blooded pulse of I Do. It sets the pace nicely. With its raw energy, wit and lyrical genius, it could easily give The Housemartins a run for their money. Single Mermaids and Slaves is a snappy, rockabilly-flavoured affair, while The Pub is like Fun Lovin Criminal's better brother, the one who got all the looks in the family.

Things look even better with the caustic wit of A Good Old Fashioned Town, where Heaton wears his political colours on his sleeve as he lashes out at 'badge kissing', 'flag-waving' reactionaries and xenophobes.

Similarly, the fantastic stomp of God Bless Texas, containing vague echoes of Five Get Over Excited, is Paul Heaton's acerbic take on redneck-land and George W Bush's own state: "God Bless Texas, where the only real trace of a black and brown face is in a bird's nest/And they're singing God Bless Texas god knows how".

Everything is Everything, impassioned and heartfelt, is the perfect ending -- Heaton's own vitriolic snapshot of a society where everything turns into a consumption item:

"The Butcher sells you pantihose, the Supermarket sells you land/ the Newsreader likes to read the news but he's also in a band/ And Feminism's fast asleep, with a cock in either hand/ Everything is Anything to Anyone".

Opening gently, it gradually meets an infectious, grinding crescendo, revealing all the inspiration of an artist, singer and lyricist that many had thought past his best.

Wrong. Paul Heaton is back with a vengeance. Now more, please.

[The Cross Eyed Rambler is out now on W14 Records]

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