Finally throwing in the hat with the Beautiful South in 2007 has seen Paul Heaton really have a proper think about a solo career it seems. Whereas his previous album under the Biscuit Boy (a.k.a. Crackerman) alias suffered from a lack of focus (and too many producers) Cross Eyed Rambler has no such problems. The album can only be described as displaying Heaton in rude health. Following the faintly creepy 78 crackle of the title track opener, I Do bursts out of the traps like a band led by someone half his age. Maybe he's finally getting sick of all these Northern whelps stealing the thunder he raised back in the good old real days of indie.
Sure, there''s a hint of nostalgia fitting to his increasing years (the a capella days of The Housemartins gets a little reprise on the chorus of The Pub), but overall the new band (and it is a band, called The Sound Of Paul Heaton) of Tom Chapman, Brian Edwards and Steve Trafford makes Cross Eyed Rambler a boisterous bag of real rock. It may not be the 'new direction' that many have talked of - it's still jaunty enough to avoid any full-on Stooges comparisons here - but it's certainly ballsier than we had any right to expect.
There was always a touch of young fogyism to Heaton's work. Here it's given full throat on the loping Everything Is Everything. A suitably grumpy coda to a fine record. Elsewhere, subject-wise, Heaton's not straying from the things close to his spiritual heart. Small town attitudes (A Good Old Fashioned Town), political leftism (God Bless Texas) and love in the REAL world (The Ring From Your Hand), but buoyed up by such irrepressible grooves it's all very palatable. Not only does it signal a proper fighting chance for a solo career for 46-year-old Heaton, but it's also good news for those who found The Beautiful South's material a little too sweet and soft round the edges. And while there's even room for a south-of-the-border twang and torch on Deckchair Collapsed, in the end this is local music for local people: Intelligent, humorous and adult but ultimately quintessentially English. And all the better for it too. --Chris Jones
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LEAD SINGER OF BEAUTIFUL SOUTHDISC 11. THE CROSS EYED RAMBLER2. I DO3. MERMAIDS and#38; SLAVES4. THE PUB5. A GOOD OLD FASHIONED TOWN6. THE RING FROM YOUR HAND7. THE BALCONY8. DECKCHAIR COLLAPSED9. LITTLE RED ROOSTER10. GOD BLESS TEXAS11. THE KIDS THESE DAYS12. EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING