Stegzy's Music Project

A commentary on Stegzy's album collection

Carry On Up the Charts – The Beautiful South [#248]

on February 12, 2015

CHANGES+IN+MINDCarry On Up the Charts – The Beautiful South

Hello, I’m a guest post! That is, the lovely Stegzy made a request for people to assist with some music reviews and I offered.

One of the albums on offer for review was by The Beautiful South, so I saw it as a chance to make up for Stegzy’s previous damming The Beautiful South review, he said tongue-in-cheek-ily. But I have offered to review a total of three albums, so you’ve got more from me to look forward to. Sorry.

Do I feel qualified to review music? Well, I have listened to it. I’m not quite sure what form a music review should take. Should it be one of those flowery artistic type reviews that consists of a number of mellifluous words but leaves you with no actual clue of whether you will enjoy it, or a highly mechanical review that expounds on the quality of the key changes around the thirty-eighth bar. Sadly I’m not qualified to do either of those, but <Somerset accent>I know what I like!</Somerset accent>

My first review is of The Beautiful South’s Carry On Up the Charts. Sadly it’s a <shudder>… best of album, and as we all know they’re as bad as those flashback Star Trek episodes where you feel cheated of a decent plot. But on the other hand it does contain a lot of lovely tracks, and acts as a lazy introduction to the group. Released in 1994, the same year as tBS’s fourth album, it contains tracks dating back to their very first album, spanning six years.

For those that don’t know, tBS were formed from some of the members of previous popular beat combo The Housemartins. I still can’t get over that Fatboy Slim was in The Housemartins, but there you go. The Housemartins were an unusual sounding almost acapella group, but broke up after just two albums in 1988. The following year tBS released their first album. I’m always fascinated by the history to a band’s name, but with tBS they’re essentially a bunch of left-leaning northern folks, hence it was chosen ironically.

I should mention a bit about reviewer skew. I was introduced to tBS when a girlfriend bought their first album, presumably based on some chart success. We both liked it, particularly the darker edge to the non-chart tracks, and she continued to buy their albums as time passed by. My liking for them outlived the relationship, and I bought everything they did until they split in 2007. Of course those with a current interest in music will know that two of the key people from the band, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, recently joined up again and released What Have We Become? My love for tBS waned though around their sixth album, Quench. Successive albums, and also What Have We Become?, just didn’t and don’t seem to have the bite of earlier albums. Or perhaps I just burned when it comes to their style.

Anyway, Carry On Up the Charts. The album opens with Song for Whoever. This is one of my least favourite on the album, and the one that got stacks of radio play, and hence may have annoyed a lot of people. It also has a definite Housemartins feel to it. It has one of those annoyingly catchy choruses that tends to mean it’ll roar up the charts, although I think it only made it to number two at the time. Despite being one of the more pop-py sounding tracks on the album it does have that tBS cynical edge to it though, as it is about a songwriter reeling off his list of various muses. I suspect most people buying the single probably missed that, and just liked the catchiness. The second track is You Keep It All In, and is a much darker albeit somewhat harder to understand affair. Essentially it appears to be referring to situations where someone wants to stand up to someone, but instead keeps it all in. The situations vary from… well, I’m not entirely sure. Slightly more coherent lyrics would have helped. But it seems to end with a verse about sadomasochism. Possibly. And that’s dark, right? The third track, From Under the Covers, is a more gentle and easier to understand affair seemingly written about a friend who never manages to hold down a job, and has a wealth of excuses, but manages to endear himself to everyone. This has sharper and better flowing lyrics than the first two tracks, in my opinion, and feels more like classic tBS. That is the sound that I grew accustomed to in their darker songs, during the first few albums. This is followed by A Little Time, featuring one of the various female singers that have come and gone from The Beautiful South, in this case Briana Corrigan. One of the curious things about tBS, aside from the changing female vocalist, was that they had two male lead vocalists. There was the aforementioned Paul Heaton, and also Dave Hemingway. Dave and Briana sing in this song, taking turns on each verse. The time being taken refers to the male part of the track, who is singing quite nonchalantly about needing some space and some freedom. The female part is far more frustrated and annoyed with the man’s need for space. Ultimately the song ends with the man having thought about it, and calling off the relationship. I was surprised to read that this was tBS’s only number one track. Curious really because it isn’t enormously catchy, nor is it very jolly, but it is very much classic tBS still.

This is the point in the review where you think, “is he really going to write about every track?”, and I’m thinking, “well, it will seem a bit odd if I just stop here”. The fifth track is My Book. Featuring all three vocalists this appears to be about a failed relationship, or at least a failed person. Hard to say. Again the lyrics are clever, even if it’s hard to derive meaning. This is followed by Let Love Speak Up Itself which is a somewhat clearer song about love being more important than material things. In typical tBS fashion though it ends on a rather sour note, when love dwindles in a relationship. The next track is a much faster paced number, Old Red Eyes is Back. It’s a much simpler and straightforward tale about an alcoholic, again with that classic sour note ending, with Old Red dying. Sorry for any spoilers. The eighth track, We Are Each Other, continues in the same faster paced vein. The lyrics are sharper and subtler, but very clearly about one of those couples that lives in each others pocket, “Closer than a sister to her baby brother. Closer than a cat to the child that she’ll smother.” No sour note ending this time though, just a repeat of the chorus. The next track, Bell Bottomed Tear, has a country and western twang to it and a slower rhythm. It’s also a darker song, mostly headed up by Briana and her gorgeous Irish lilt. Essentially it seems to revolve around a one night stand which didn’t quite work out, hence the tear.

The tenth track, and one of my favourites, is 36D. Unsurprisingly it refer to a bra size, but more so its usage in the media as a defining characteristic for women. The song squarely lays the blame for the objectification of women at the door of women that take their clothes off for money, which apparently led to Briana quitting the band.  Moving on to the fourth and final album, at least as far as the compilation is concerned, the next track is Good as Gold. This is, in my opinion, where the quality starts to tail off, both in terms of the best of, and tBS generally. The track is pleasant enough though, but just lacking an edge. It seems to be about reality falling short of aspirations, and I did wonder if there’s a reference to Elvis, “Dried his mouth in the Memphis sun”. The next track is Everybody’s Talkin, which strangely is a cover of the original 1966 track by Fred Neil. This isn’t to say that tBS do a bad job of it, but cover songs seem a strange choice for them. No doubt there’s some ironic element I’m missing, but it was also the most successful track from their fourth album in terms of chart position. The thirteenth track is Prettiest Eyes, a slower and gentler track, and a rather surprisingly sweet love song. No dark edge or cynicism to be found here. The Prettiest Eyes refers to the muse of the songwriter, and despite time passing by the eyes remain pretty, and their relationship remains happy. This is followed by One Last Love Song, which is rather folk-y, and I can envisage being sung drunkenly in Irish pubs. I don’t much like it though. Apparently the German, US, and Japanese versions of the album then feature Dream a Little Dream of Me. Oddly I seem to have it, so I’m not sure if I ended up with the US version. Anyway, it’s a rather dreadful cover of the 1931 song, predominantly sung by Jacqui Abbott. Not that I have anything against Jacqui, she’s lovely, it’s just the choice of song, and another cover song! Oh well, most best of albums end weakly.

And there you have it. Apologies for the epic post. I promise the next two that I do will be shorter, mostly because (a) I don’t know the albums so well and (b) there’s less to write about the tracks.

It’s hard to choose a favourite song from the better songs on the album, but here’s 36D…

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One response to “Carry On Up the Charts – The Beautiful South [#248]

  1. stegzy says:

    I never knew Fatboy Slim was in the Housemartins. I learn something new every time I read this project! Thanks Steelrattus 😀

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