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Paul Heaton And Jacqui Abbott - N.K-Pop (Album Review)

Friday, 14 October 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

How do you capture the essence of lockdown without making an album that screams ‘lockdown record’ from every note? And how do you subsequently make it sound like a celebratory shindig while exploring the underlying emotional impact? On a typically excellent romp that smuggles wise life lessons, gallows humour and plenty of acerbic barbs into a series of literate pop-rock gems, former Beautiful South duo Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott have done just that.

If you awoke from a long hibernation and were immediately exposed to ‘N.K Pop’, the follow up to 2020’s chart topping ‘Manchester Calling’, you’d have no idea what the world had been through during your slumber. Thankfully, this album doesn’t overtly reference the pandemic as Heaton focusses his idiosyncratic lyrical pistol at the idea of separation in all its enforced and self-inflicted forms.

Whether it’s death’s sweet sting, relationship minutiae, becoming extricated from your confidence or cutting an unhealthy cord, his personal tales, which also touch on scurrilous rogues who manipulate to cause division, would be timeless and resonant without the backdrop of Covid isolation and misinformation.

The Good Times, which seesaws giddily from Elvis Costello cool into goofy Madness quirkiness, finds a pub landlord feeling guilty about introducing his wife to the addiction that finally killed her, while listening to ghostly former proprietors of his establishment air their marital woes.

Sunny Side Up, meanwhile, mimics a ‘60s espionage movie score before becoming a deceptively sweet jingle that castigates The Telegraph and The Sun newspapers, along with those Eton boys, for inciting racism and classism.

Elsewhere, the drily self-deprecating I Drove Her Away reveals how the narrator’s constant blubbing repelled his partner and Still, which sees Heaton delivering the most poignant, tender and important message of his career, discusses the silent, lingering pain of losing a child.  

As ever, those relatable kitchen sink dramas are played out over ebullient, hook-drenched music that acts as a sonic answer to the songwriter’s razor sharp lines and observational brilliance. Thanks to guitarist Johnny Lexus and producer John Williams, whose gold standard piano sounds constantly leap out of the beaming mix, these contagious cuts will make you yearn to hug or cry on the shoulder of a complete stranger for some much needed human touch.

Integrating everything from shuffling acoustic folk, proud trumpet bursts and cinematic strings to delicious rockabilly grooves and jazzy saxophone, Heaton and co seamlessly switch styles from song to song and moment to moment. I Ain’t Going Nowhere starts like a silent film soundtrack, as we follow an old guy bemoaning his inability to wanderlust, before morphing into a spunky country trot and climaxing with half-time blues and howling harmonica.

On the flip side of separation lies unity, and Heaton and Abbott were simply born to make music together. Although he writes the songs, and delivers some outstanding vocal performances, she’s the secret sauce that brings endearing back and forths like Baby It’s Cold Inside and You’re Too Much For One (Not Enough For Two) to life with soul, sass, wit, pathos and take-no-prisoners brush offs.

It might not match ‘Manchester Calling’ for adventurous musical flair, but ‘N.K Pop’ thematically trumps that effort while delivering a dozen painfully familiar stories that, in spite of the subject matter, are so reassuring they’ll make you feel more connected to yourself and a life that’s beautifully messy for everyone.

Paul Heaton And Jacqui Abbott Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat November 26 2022 - SWANSEA Swansea Arena
Sun November 27 2022 - LLANDUDNO Venue Cymru Arena
Mon November 28 2022 - BLACKPOOL Opera House
Thu December 01 2022 - BRIDLINGTON Bridlington Spa
Fri December 02 2022 - GLASGOW OVO Hydro
Sat December 03 2022 - STOCKTON Stockton Globe
Mon December 05 2022 - PORTSMOUTH Portsmouth Guildhall
Tue December 06 2022 - NOTTINGHAM Motorpoint Arena
Thu December 08 2022 - BIRMINGHAM Resorts World Arena
Fri December 09 2022 - SHEFFIELD Utilita Arena
Sat December 10 2022 - MANCHESTER AO Arena
Sat December 17 2022 - LONDON O2 Arena
Fri February 17 2023 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Sat February 18 2023 - GALWAY LEISURELAND
Sun February 19 2023 - BALLYBOFEY Balor Arts Centre
Tue February 21 2023 - DERRY Millennium Forum
Wed February 22 2023 - BELFAST SSE Arena Belfast
Fri February 24 2023 - KILLARNEY Gleneagle INEC Arena

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