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47 Minutes Of Perfect Pop,
This review is from: London O Hull 4 (Audio CD)
The Housemartins' debut album released in 1986 is a brilliant example of compelling pop music, produced by a band with a strong (left-wing) political commitment. It would, however, be a crying shame if their political beliefs put anyone off listening to this masterpiece, which contains more brilliant musical hooks than most bands achieve in an entire career. Most people who have only heard (superficially) of the band will probably know them via the singles Caravan of Love (their cover of the Isley Brothers' song) or Happy Hour (which opens this album) - indeed, despite being a great song, Happy Hour is actually, for me, one of the weaker songs on this album.
The Housemartins' sound (particularly the sound produced by guitarist Stan Cullimore) on this album is derivative of bands from this post-New Wave (or punk) era, such as the Undertones and even (at times) The Smiths . However, regardless of influences, the key component of the band's sound is the extremely tight playing by the rhythm section, comprising drummer Hugh Whitaker and bass player Norman Cook (yes, the same man who went on to become the renowned DJ, Fatboy Slim). Paul Heaton's melodic (and rather high-pitched) vocals, often accompanied by harmony/falsetto backing from the rest of the group, provide the perfect (and somewhat original) rounding off to the band's overall aural effect.
The 16 songs on the album comprise 13 originals (predominantly written by Heaton and Cullimore) and 3 covers. The originals are principally up-tempo songs, all with brilliant guitar hooks, my favourite examples being Get Up Off Our Knees, Anxious, Sitting On A Fence, Sheep and We're Not Deep. As is the band's wont, lyrically these songs all rail against injustices in society, including global poverty, society's herd-like behaviour, societal breakdown, vested interests in the press and workplace conformity (injustices that are sadly just as relevant now).
There are also two up-tempo instrumentals, Reverend's Revenge and the awesome (a word I rarely use because I hate its modern usage, but in this case it is totally appropriate) The Mighty Ship. This latter song is 1 minute 50 seconds of pure brilliance, with Stan's guitar going at ten to the dozen and Paul laying down a superb harp over the top - I defy anyone (and I mean anyone!!) not to get up and dance to this (even I do!). Is there any comparably brilliant short, pop instrumental? Maybe, A Beard of Stars by Tyrannosaurus Rex? As for the band-penned slower songs, the killer song is Flag Day, a heart-rending lament to the fact that charity flag days can never deal with the underlying causes of poverty in society.
Mention should also be made of the three covers included. For me, the outstanding example is the gospel choir-backed version of Jamaican reggae artist, LLoyd Charmers' superb I'll Be Your Shelter (Just Like A Shelter). There are also excellent versions of Curtis Mayfield's epic People Get Ready and the Bobby Scott and Bob Russell-penned He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, which was a huge hit for The Hollies.
I must also admit to having had the music of The Housemartins drawn to my attention only in the last few years (other than, of course, being aware of the Happy Hour and Caravan of Love singles at the time of their release). Indeed, as will be well known to long-standing fans, Heaton also went on to produce some superb (and somewhat more sophisticated) pop music with The Beautiful South. Despite being a southerner myself, I willingly yield to this (Hull) band's greatness.