Virgin/EMI
4/5

Many a true word is spoken in jest, and never was that more accurate than with Paul Heaton. This, though, is why he’s so undervalued by the muso elite: music and humour rarely mingle successfully, and most artists attempting the feat normally end up the butt of a joke.

Yet Heaton is never afraid of proving it’s possible. For over three decades, he’s wrapped incisive social commentary in a blanket of wry observation and dry wit, and on his third album with Jacqui Abbott, his former colleague in The Beautiful South, they deliver some of his finest lines.

“Crooked Calypso finds him, as always, writing for the people in Britain’s neglected high streets, for the middle aged or lonely, for the forgotten or forsaken.” – Wyndham Wallace

Where most musicians at this point in their career would throw everything and the kitchen sink into the production, dulling their intellect’s sharp edges with schmaltz, he instead stands at the kitchen sink, reflecting, with uncommon, admirable empathy, on the insignificant actions that in fact define our lives.

Check out the spirited rockabilly of The Fat Man, which contrasts the media’s image of the obese: “They only ever show the waistline/ Down to the shoe” – with the tragedy of the situation, which lingers long after the grim humour of: “He’d choose the noose/ But he’s broken the chair”.

On the deceptively upbeat, gospel-flavoured I Gotta Praise, a lonely individual to whom: “the florists return any flowers I send” confesses they’ll settle for a: “long term relationship/ Or just a quick squeeze”.

Elsewhere, he tackles racism, religion and snobbery, the jokes landing with a rare poignancy. There’s always been a dark side to Heaton’s work – he is, after all, the man behind The Housemartins’ The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death – and Crooked Calypso finds him at his best. Whatever he and Abbott sing, be it barbed, funny or touching, he deserves to be recognised as one of the UK’s best lyricists. For that alone – without wishing to belittle sweet-voiced, girl-next-door Abbott’s contribution – Crooked Calypso demands your attention.

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