'Tis the season to make lists, tra-la-la-la etc.
However, this year has been a bleak one in terms of my finances, so I haven't bought half as much new music as usual. Neither have I listened to that much new music - partly through time constraints, and partly because it may finally be happening... middle-aged ennui: as Eddie Argos put it, "popular culture no longer applies to me". There's no Eminem album in my countdown this year to keep me Radio One friendly and the Lana Del Rey record I'd pinned my hopes on fell flat when I grew tired of her sleazy shock shtick. As a result, the majority of this list will be comprised of the usual suspects, mostly artists even older than me. (I had a look through the NME year end Top 50 earlier this week and only recognised about 7 names. Though a few of the ones I didn't recognise did sound quite interesting...)
Still, of the records I have heard, there have been some corkers. Here's the first...
10. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - What Have We Become?
Since breaking up The Beautiful South due to "musical similarities" back in 2007, Paul Heaton has released a series of acerbic, amusing and always socially aware solo albums - plus one bizarre musical, The 8th, roping in everybody from Cherry Ghost to Reg E. Cathey from The Wire. But though each record was entertaining in its own way, none has quite scaled the heights of 0898, Blue Is The Colour or Miaow. There was always something missing.
Jacqui Abbott was the second of three female singers to perform in The Beautiful South alongside Heaton and third vocalist Dave Hemingway. She followed Brianna (You Keep It All In) Corrigan and preceded Alison (Stars In Their Eyes) Wheeler who joined when Abbott left to look after her young son. Although some fans preferred Corrigan's feisty Kirsty MacColl style, the band enjoyed the height of its success during Abbott's time. When she was suckered out of retirement to take part in The 8th, many fans wondered whether a full-on BS reunion would result. But sadly, Heaton's co-songwriter Dave Rotheray seems unlikely to return while Hemingway, Wheeler and the rest of the old band are plugging away on the tour circuit as The South (no longer Beautiful).
All of which brings us to the Heaton / Abbott reunion, a resounding success and Heaton's best album in any guise since 1998's Quench. It's wrong to label Abbott his muse, but as the man himself explained in interviews, sometimes it helps if his sharper lyrics are sung by someone other than himself. Particularly when that someone has the angelic tones of Abbott.
It's 11amLet's face it, if Heaton had sung the above verse (from state-of-the-nation closer When I Get Back To Blighty), it would have come across as just another socialist rant. Abbott's vocals give it an entirely different texture. Like if Morrissey wrote Life Is A Pigsty and then handed it to Rumer to perform. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
It's blue upon blue in the sky
But everyone around agrees
Phil Collins, Phil Collins must die
White t-shirt and faded jeans
Just an ordinary guy
But prisoner to his tax returns
Phil Collins, Phil Collins must die
He must die, he must die
But the record's success isn't purely down to Abbott. Even on the tracks Heaton performs solo, he brings his A-game, most notably on the blistering I Am Not A Muse in which he takes aim at the daft and pretentious shit "serious" rock stars often say when getting interviewed...
I am not in a band...as well as bursting a few of the myths about his own "leg end".
Because daddy didn't understand
I did not gain from others' pain
And then sell it back to them again
I'm not mad or insane
I'm not into early Miles Davis or John Coltrane
I'm not a muse
I am not a northern starElsewhere, it's business as usual. Twisted duet love songs comparing relationships to overgrown gardens, bad DIY and fading romance on the 'Costa Del Sombre'. (The latter would have been a Top 10 hit for the old band in the late 90s, but those days are gone.) Savage digs at people whose lives are ruled by car adverts, outlet malls and twitter. Anger, pathos and resignation. Loadsa laughs.
I do not greet my friends
'Aye ups' and 'alright la's'
I don't sit outside
Italian style bars
And talk about The La's and The La's and The La's
Sadly, I only bought the standard edition of the album (it was very cheap and so am I)... now Heato's released one of the tracks from the Special Edition as a single, and damn if it I'm probably going to have to save up for another copy. These bloody pop stars - even the socialist ones are out to bankrupt me!
Coming next, at number 9... an Englishman in New York. (No, I promise, it's not Sting.)