Album: Paul Heaton

Fat Chance, Mercury

Andy Gill
Monday 06 January 2014 04:54

This solo debut brings into sharper focus that most puzzling of pop conundrums, the unaccountable popularity of the Beautiful South. Unchecked by his bandmates' input, Paul Heaton's characteristic cynicism expands to galactic proportions here, with songs such as "Man, Girl, Boy, Woman", "10 Lessons in Love" and the single "The Perfect Couple" offering glum commentary on the frayed lineaments of desire and the seeming impossibility of true love. You'll search in vain for a generous sentiment on Fat Chance – even the celebration of a happy relationship in "Barstool" involves a snide put-down of couples who "look for love in a love so obviously dead", as if Heaton were temperamentally unable to express untrammelled joy without letting a little pessimism leak in. Elsewhere, his dyspeptic worldview is applied to holidays ("Last Day Blues"), news coverage ("Man's World"), creativity ("Poems"), and most successfully to religion in "If", which features the album's best lines: "If God comes down/ Which he won't/ Half the do-gooders/ Will find they don't". The settings, by Joe Strummer's bandmates Martin Slattery and Scott Shields, are discreet but mostly dull, with desultory Southern-soul horns, guitar and organ failing to dramatically enliven the proceedings. But with material as drab and depressing as this, how could they?

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