Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: Manchester Calling review – rich vignettes on life's vagaries

Heaton and Abbott’s fourth album together finds them mulling the ups and downs of British life in gently acerbic style

Paul Heaton recently remarked that if he’d known how well his songs would resonate with ordinary people up and down the country, he’d have written more. He’s hardly been slacking. His eighth solo album (and his fourth with former Beautiful South singer Abbott) is trademark stuff, which will be familiar to fans of that band and Heaton’s previous outfit, the Housemartins. There are richly observed, gently acerbic vignettes about the vagaries of British life, delivered over a mix of steadily uptempo pop, folk, ska and soul. Heaton’s bittersweet delivery propels songs about sex (The Only Exercise I Get Is You), love (You and Me [Were Meant to Be Together])and depression (Somebody’s Superhero).

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: Manchester Calling album art work
Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: Manchester Calling album art work Photograph: Publicity Image

Abbott takes the lead on If You Could See Your Faults – the diary of a long-suffering spouse and one of the pair’s loveliest tunes – and House Party 2’s superb demolition of tiresome would-be suitors. She brings empathy to the symphonic soul of The Prison’s tale of premature motherhood and “woman’s overriding right to fuck her life right up”. A certain cosiness produces fillers So Happy and New York Ivy, but abandoning the comfort zone delivers some of the best things here. Over a grime/hip-hop-informed soundtrack, MCR Calling accompanies a collage of Mancunian narrators on a love-hate tour around Heaton’s adopted city, where “gangsters ride on tricycles” and “they’re pulling down the last building that anybody liked”. My Legal High is almost Beautiful South-go-Cramps, a riff-rocking paean to the idea that love is the greatest drug of all. Heaton really should play less safe more often.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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