Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott’s vocal sparring fired the Beautiful South’s most successful period, and since reuniting they have picked up where they left off. Their second album together sees rich, acerbic lyrics set against exuberant music informed by Heaton’s encyclopedic love of pop and soul. However, there are musical departures in the reggae/bubblegum pop-referencing The Austerity of Love and guitar-rocker The Horse and Groom. The pair’s bittersweet voices make sometimes warm and sometimes withering – but always engaging – comments on their nation and its people, taking in subjects from revenge porn to unconditional love and violent Republican fantasies, and feature all manner of characters, from transvestites to a woman facing old age. One of our shrewdest lyricists, Heaton is at his brilliant best in Lonesome and Sad Millionaire, addressing a big, political subject (rampant big business) via the medium of a touching personal story. Elsewhere there’s the lovely Sundial in the Shade, a glorious hymn to life’s simple pleasures – and indeed, there are plenty of those here.
Dave Simpson is a Guardian music critic and author