Paul Heaton presents The 8th (LP Review)
Review by Jack Foley
IT’S always interesting when an artist re-invents himself. Hence, Paul Heaton, the artist best known as the voice of The Housemartins and The Beautiful South, has delivered a soul opera in the form of The 8th and the difference is striking.
The 8th is one of the longest songs ever written and was one of the hits of last year’s Manchester International Festival (2011).
A song in eight chapters, it looks at the seven deadly sins through a series of scenes taking place in a single poverty-stricken neighbourhood, one where a new, thoroughly modern sin, The 8th, is able to insinuate itself into every person’s life.
Given the show’s success, it prompted Heaton to take The 8th onto the road this July as part of his own 50th birthday celebrations and the ensuing tour will see the artist perform two different shows each night – The 8th followed by a career spanning set of greatest hits.
For The 8th, however, he will be accompanied by star of US hit series The Wire, Reg E Cathey, as well as Ivor Novello winning artist Cherry Ghost, ex Beautiful South singer Jacqui Abbott, Los Campesinos! vocalist Gareth Paisey and sweet soul singer Wayne Gidden (to name but a few).
He’ll also be releasing this album, or soundtrack, which showcases the songs in all their glory, complete with spoken word interludes from the performers.
Needless to say, it’s an acquired taste given the show format and one that arguably works best if you’ve seen the production. But it’s also consistently intriguing, both in terms of the story it has to tell (the narrative is supplied by award-winning playwright Che Walker), as well as the diversity of the song-writing.
There are only a handful of moments that sound anything like Heaton has delivered before, while other moments conform to big show style or even soul, gospel and hip-hop song format.
Of the highlights, Panther gets things started in typically exuberant fashion, blending gritty, spoken word vocals set against a throbbing electronic pulse with gospel interludes. It has a proper sense of the theatrical and the operatic.
The bluesy guitar and warped electronics that herald the start of Sermon Of A Little Faith, meanwhile, offer a precursor to some outraged preaching and a gutsy blend of guitars and synths that sound positively UNKLE-esque. It’s instrumental form is repeated to equally compelling effect on Pharoah’s Boot, which leads into the edgy, deliberately provocative Lust, and a feisty female vocal that’s dripping in soul.
Gluttony, meanwhile, sets a playful, almost kooky melody, against some harrowing lyricism about greed and suffering (referencing Vietnam and the effects of Napalm during its macabre tale).
The real highlights, however, come in the form of Wrath, which combines a gritty guitar riff with a sultry set of vengeful vocals for a proper little rock opera moment, and Envy, which combines a tick-tock guitar opening a la Under The Boardwalk with the type of cheerful melodicism that was the hallmark of The Beautiful South. It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, to hear the lush vocals of Abbott contributing added beauty to this song.
Final two songs Gossip and Coda also bring things to a typically grandiose and celebratory finale, veering into the heightened theatrical style of Meat Loaf at times (with a touch of Don McLean’s America Pie at others). But it’s a fitting end to the show that ought to bring the house down.
The 8th is therefore big, bold, dark and adventurous and marks a personal success for Heaton. It’s a curiosity piece, for sure, but one that gives rise to a lot of pleasures.
Download picks: Sermon Of A Little Faith, Lust, Wrath, Envy