Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Beautiful South Carry On Up The Charts

The intelligent, bittersweet approach continued on 1992’s ‘0898: Beautiful South’ (UK#4), which gave the band their third consecutive top five album in Britain. Though the album didn’t yield any top ten singles, ‘Old Red Eyes Is Back’ (UK#22), ‘We Are Each Other’ (UK#30/US#10 Modern Rock Tracks), and the tale of small-time tragedy contained within ‘Bell Bottomed Tear’ (UK#16), kept The Beautiful South entrenched inside the British top 40 for most of 1992. Brianna Corrigan left soon after to pursue a solo career (though there was some talk that she had some issues with Heaton’s lyrics), and was replaced by new vocalist Jacqui Abbott. The chemistry within The Beautiful South remained strong, and was demonstrated on their next album ‘Miaow’ (UK#6) in March 1994. Four more British top 40 tracks were realised over the course of ‘94, with ‘One Last Love Song’ (UK#14) and ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ (UK#12 - a cover of the Fred Neil song, which had been a hit previously for Harry Nilsson) performing best on the charts. Already The Beautiful South had racked up more album and single sales than the Housemartins, and the band’s immense popularity at home was exemplified by the release of their first ‘best of’ package ‘Carry On Up The Charts’ in November of ‘94, which performed up to its name when it bolted to #1 in its first week of release (claiming the honour of being the 500th official #1 album in Britain), and sat at the summit for seven weeks.

The only activity from The Beautiful South in the studio during 1995 surfaced via the single ‘Pretenders To The Throne’, which became the group’s lucky thirteenth top 20 hit in Britain. They sharpened the lyrical barbs even further for their next album, 1996’s ‘Blue Is The Colour’, which soon proved gold was the colour found in The Beautiful South, as it shot to the top of the British charts soon after its release in November. It had been preceded by the single ‘Rotterdam’ (UK#5), and soon courted controversy via the second single. Despite having to release a slightly altered version to appease radio regulators, the song ‘Don’t Marry Her’ climbed to #8 in Britain and further consolidated The Beautiful South as one of the pre-eminent adult oriented pop outfits in the U.K. The consistent depth of quality material (and thrusting cynicism) on their albums was further illustrated by two more charting singles in ‘Blackbird On The Wire’ (UK#23) and ‘Liar’s Bar’ (UK#43). It was an album fit to drown collective sorrows in.

After taking a well earned sabbatical The Beautiful South resumed their stellar run of commercial success with the 1998 album ‘Quench’, which undoubtedly quenched the thirst of the band’s fans for new material, to the extent that it became The Beautiful South’s third consecutive #1 album in Britain soon after its release in October ‘98. The lead out single ‘Perfect 10’ stopped just one position short of being a perfect #1, whilst the follow up singles ‘Dumb’ (UK#16) and ‘How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry?’ (UK#12) indicated there was no let up of quality material from The Beautiful South, nor in audience demand for it. The album’s title reflected a central theme of alcoholism and self loathing, which surely would have proved overbearing had it not been for The Beautiful South maintaining a palatable mix of melodic pop, rock, jazz elements within the music, with smatterings of ironic humour.

2000’s ‘Painting It Red’ once again shot up the British charts (#2) but produced just one hit single of note with ‘Closer Than Most’ (UK#22). There were some substantial issues arose with promotion and touring, and thousands of copies of the CD for ‘Painting It Red’ had production faults. Shortly after the album was released vocalist Jacqui Abbott left the band. The remaining members of The Beautiful South opted to take an extended break to focus on other projects, and questions were raised in the press as to whether the end had come.

The Beautiful South reconvened for 2003’s ‘Gaze’ (UK#14), with a new female vocalist Alison Wheeler. It was their first album to stall outside the British top 10, and produced just one top 30 hit in ‘Just A Few Things That I Ain’t’ (UK#30). Their next album ‘Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs’ (UK#11) put its hand up as the odd one out in The Beautiful South’s discography. It was an eclectic mix of quirkily arranged cover songs, including a version of E.L.O.’s ‘Livin’ Thing’ (UK#24). Heaton & Co. had one last album left in them which materialised in the form of 2006’s ‘Superbi’ (UK#6), and featured a typical selection of mordant, melodic pop fair (with a tad more rock in place of pop).

With worldwide record sales exceeding 15 million, there seemed little left to say or prove for The Beautiful South, and in January 2007 they made a formal announcement that they were splitting due to ‘musical similarities’ - typically ironic of a band that pushed the notion to its very limits over almost nineteen years.

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