Paul Heaton Presents... "The 8th"
Paul Heaton, formerly front-man of both The Housemartins and the Beautiful South turns 50 this summer, and he commemorates this by taking his ‘Soul Opera’ show 'The 8th' out on tour around the UK, having debuted it with some success at the Manchester International Arts Festival in 2011
The eight main pieces at the core of the work are reflections upon the seven deadly sins, but introduces a modern eight to the list – Gossip – all of which are set in a backdrop of a poverty stricken black neighbourhood in America, for some unexplainable reason.
Heaton has gathered a wide-ranging cast to perform these pieces, giving a somewhat dislocated feel – Reg E. Cathey from TV’s The Wire raps his way through the many free-flowing narratives and scene setting sections, relaying the exploits of himself, Young Dwayne, and their various run-ins with inherently racist and corrupt police, brutality, jail and ultimately redemption. Elsewhere King Creosote, Simon Aldred from Manc rockers Cherry Ghost, ex Beautiful South singer Jacqui Abbot, members of Los Campesinos, and an array of folk and gospel voices from the breath of the British Isles contribute, which somehow goes against the pervading narrative grain of the American ghetto morality play.
There’s no operatics obviously, but then there's very little soul here either; Much of the work hangs on some frequently recurring musical motifs, portentous mechanical pulses, and rather outmoded and stale ideas of electronic music and rhythms underpin cut ups of black power speeches, police radio chatter and gospel choirs. King Creosote fronts the frothy ‘Gluttony’ atop a synthesised re-interpretation of Tom Waits’s junkyard percussion and rhythmic belches, alongside puzzling references to Vietnam and Hiroshima. Jacqui Abbot delivers the pleasantly melodic, and, well, rather Beautiful South-ish soul-pop shuffle of ‘Envy‘, while Simon Aldred adds his lovely heartfelt croon over an accappella gospel backing on ‘Greed’, in a moment slightly reminiscent of the Housemartins biggest hit ‘Caravan of Love’ (and could “Holland’s banking Ireland’s sweetest thing” be a dig at Bono and his tax-avoiding mates?), while elsewhere the likes of ‘Sloth’ seem to take on more trad musical theatre colours. Heaton takes lead vocals himself on the perverse dub reggae of ‘Gossip’ (which breaks into Ska and hard rock alternately in a bid to sprint to the finish), where the evil get their comeuppance.
Concluding its search for redemption in church (‘Walk Into The Light’), the message is spelled out in no uncertain terms; “Divinity comes from within” the cartoon preacher rails, casting the whole piece as something of a modern religious parable for a society losing its way fast (which is odd coming from the pen of Heaton, a proclaimed atheist). Perhaps there is something slightly fuzzy in the translation of the show’s performance on to record. Heaton remains a sharp, thoughtful lyricist but musically a lot of ‘The 8th’ sounds dated, anaemic and lacklustre, and somewhat difficult to follow, even if there are some strong individual performances.