Release Date: May 12, 2014
Record label: Virgin EMI
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock
The first massive smile spreads across your face like a sunrise precisely 21 seconds in to What Have We Become?'s first song, 'Moulding of a Fool'. It's the first time you hear Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott's voices sing together and despite everything else you're hearing - which is happily a pop-motown-handclap barnstormer of an opener - it's such an unabashed joy to hear those voices blend, the entrance price is justified right there and then. Back when Heaton masterminded the bittersweet pop juggernaut of The Beautiful South, Abbott was his favourite muse, the second of the band's three female singers and the one whose voice best suited Heaton's sardonic soul.
On seeing the reunited Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott last month at Heaton’s Salford pub The Kings Arms, Abbott was rather unrecognisable. Gone was the short bob that characterised her in the ’90s in videos for Perfect 10 and the like, and in was long hair. A fresh look. Heaton, meanwhile, looked largely the same, the cheeky, mischievous attitude still visible.
A wonderful mix of caustic and clever, British band the Beautiful South broke up in 2007 thanks to "musical similarities," but the two voices of the group reunite on this 2014 treasure, and it's like everything that's old is new again. What Have We Become? opens with a familiar, crisply hit snare, a bright piano that whisks the melody away to a sunshine place, and the heavenly harmonies of Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, and yet, in the lyrics there are diamonds being shoved into mouths plus a Gil Scott-Heron interpolation that goes "The revolution will not be televised/And neither will your death" as if the Smiths just got hip. Of course, meat isn't necessarily murder to this duo, but packaged ham and hot dogs are close enough, as the title track paints an obese picture with "chicken wings have replaced all the fun" and "pizza boxes block out the sun," this consumer report being delivered over the kind of majestic pop arrangement folks like Dionne Warwick favored in the late '60s.
?In their trademark, whimsical style, The Beautiful South announced their split in 2007, citing “musical similarities” as the reason. Born from the ashes of The Housemartins, The Beautiful South released ten studio albums over two decades, becoming household names due to kitchen-sink dramatic tracks that could make a listener laugh-out-loud in-between singing along. With what was seemingly a revolving door policy regarding female vocalists, it was Jacqui Abbot who would contribute to the band’s biggest sellers, including hits “Rotterdam”, “Perfect 10” and “Don’t Marry Her”, before bowing out to focus on family life.