The beautiful and the bland

The Beautiful South | Brixton Academy, London
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The Independent Culture

It's official. Radio 2 is now the most popular station in the nation, proving that we truly are a country of the middle-aged, no matter what advertisers desperate to justify their existence by appealing to the young and gullible might think.

It's official. Radio 2 is now the most popular station in the nation, proving that we truly are a country of the middle-aged, no matter what advertisers desperate to justify their existence by appealing to the young and gullible might think.

And The Beautiful South, with their gently ironic music and acerbically ironic lyrics, are the soundtrack.

Truly, they're like Cold Feet in musical form - intelligent enough to deserve a certain respect yet totally comforting for the uncommitted. Somewhat charmingly, their latest album, the interminable Painting it Red, sports a "Parental Advisory/Explicit Lyrics" sticker on its cover. Fair enough. These days it's only the parents of the 30-something buyers who are likely to raise an eyebrow at the occasional F-word.

Just how Eighties Hull indie outfit The Housemartins continue to influence British music is a mystery. One-time bassist Norman Cook - aka Fatboy Slim - is of course a tabloid staple, often caught in long shot, but it's their drummer Dave Hemingway and singer Paul Heaton, Northern Realists both, who've broken sales records. Beautiful South's 1994 greatest hits collection Carry On Up the Charts sold millions, possibly through osmosis, and the band can still count on a loyal support.

What little glamour they've ever possessed is dissipated by the recent departure of token girl Jacqui Abbott. This presents a logistical problem when performing "question and response" tunes like "Perfect 10" and "You Keep It All In". They proudly ignore it.

Heaton sings Abbott's "Rotterdam" perfectly well, despite confessing that he doesn't comprehend the lyrics, while he and Hemingway make an unlikely loving, warring couple on the other track. The singles are fine, largely arriving later when the band, and crowd, have warmed up. But the first half of the set is quite the most tediously undercooked hour of entertainment I've seen this year.

They're never enervated at the best of times (Heaton excepted) and how the faceless bandsmen in anoraks - pricey, but still anoraks - stay awake is a mystery. They plod through ghastly one-joke songs like "Baby Please Go" and the horrible "Old Red Eyes Is Back". The gratuitous "36D" is at least lively and their debut single "Song For Whoever", more pertinent than ever, is ripe to be covered by the faux sincere types it skilfully skewers.

But, witty or not, I'd rather undergo dentistry without anaesthetic than see the Beautiful South again - though to be fair, they do have an appropriately numbing effect. Reluctant to rock, reluctant to groove, they are nothing less than Cliff Richard for teachers.

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