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You�re glumly forced to admit they�re telling the truth
on 5 February 2001
You've been drinking too much and depriving her of the time you said you'd spend with her. It's all there, in this album's lyrics. In the end, you're glumly forced to admit they're telling the truth. And it hurts, because when The Beautiful South sing the truth, they make no attempt to dress it up in cosy little euphemisms.
"We still got closer than most" rings the central line of Closer Than Most, the album's first single and second track, but the edge of guilt in Paul Heaton's voice suggests this is only half the story and we're left to guess the other half. Later on "Love takes time, we all agree" is followed up by "but time's not the easiest to please". Moments of unbearable poignancy here are levied with humour, as is the norm on a Beautiful South album, although the humour here is a few shades darker. The overall mood is resignation that this is as good as life's going to get. And the band breaks all the rules of the Pop Album in getting their message across.
Rule One - all pop albums must start with a cheery number. With this (obviously not) in mind, Painting It Red opens with Who's Gonna Tell, a serious meditation on the ageing process and how most of us go into denial. No self-help manual ever contained truer words than the following - "it's the news that everyone dreads, you're no longer painting it red".
Yes, the truth hurts, no matter how you choose to dress it up. While 1998's Quench was The Beautiful South at their pop-friendly best, Painting It Red is easily their most fully realised album. Everything fits beautifully. There might be fat on the bones of the ordinary joes they sing about but there's no flab on this album. Indeed, Painting It Red might be the album, which puts the beautiful into Beautiful South. On songs like the gorgeous Masculine Eclipse, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbot's voices become one as never before, showing two sides to each emotion and two angles of approach for each argument and in the bits in between they illustrate without saying out loud that these are the reasons why men and women are, what they give to each other, and more importantly, what they hold back.
Having assumed the role of the alcoholic rake with talent, who's realised he can't go on any longer than this and is bent on warning others of the dangers that lie down this path of life on Quench Heaton here, as both a writer and a singer, comes on as a sort of regretful guardian angel. There's ample proof of my argument in Who's Gonna Tell and, less obviously, in Just Checkin', but the clearest proof has to be in Hit Parade ("that tune's not mine, it's Kenny Paul's", indeed), where Heaton puts his arm around your shoulder and takes you on a metaphorical pub crawl through his greatest heroes and influences - musical and otherwise. It's an invigorating trip, made all the more welcome by Heaton's unusual willingness to let his guard down so that you the listener can see the real him. Despite being a band effort, this is very much Paul Heaton's album.