Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Beautiful South 'Pretenders To The Throne'

Chart Peak: 18


Noting their fairly large number of appearances, I'm slightly surprised that this is the first time we've encountered the Beautful South round these parts, though of course two of their number have shown up before as part of the Housemartins. This was the first new Beautiful South material since the "mega-platinum selling" Carry On Up The Charts singles compilation made the band a household name, even if not many people in those households would know unprompted who David Stead and Jacqui Abbot were.

At the time, I thought this was just an advance single for a fifth album, and not being a completism-level fan of the band I spurned the option of buying the single, even the cheaper 1-track version (quite a novelty in those days). As it turned out, when that album did show up about a year later in the shape of Blue is The Colour, this track wasn't on it (I don't know whether this was the intention all along, or whether they just decided to drop it when they'd written the other songs for the album) and apart from this appearance it didn't show up again until 2002. It's very much the forgotten Beautiful South hit, which I don't think I've heard on the radio or seen on telly since its original chart run. In fact, I even forgot it a bit myself despite it being a significant selling point of the best-of album I have it on. Then when I obtained my copy of Now 32 for the princely sum of 50p and ripped it to MP3 for the purposes of this blog, on the spur of the moment I added this track to my player and it's served me well ever since.

Even after fifteen years I've never totally figured out what the song's supposed to be about, though. It lists the merits of various towns and cities (a faint echo of 'Song For Whoever'?) before ultimately seeming to reject them in favour of an unnamed destination that has "class [and] excellence like you've never seen." But notably, one of the places they dismiss is "Hull with its musical flair" so they're not pleading for their own hometown. Presumably the key line is "if you've been, it's not where I mean" - they're dissociating themselves from whoever the song's being sung to and anything they could possibly appreciate. The middle eight develops this theme with what's perhaps the definitive Paul Heaton lyric; "As I watch them drop the grain into your fishtank brain/How can you like this place when it never even rains?"

As usual, they wrap this confrontational lyric in a pretty little tune, another example of that surprisingly unique sound of theirs. It's also one of their first tracks to show traces of an electronic influence, albeit rather subtly at the end. It's not their strongest track by any means, but neither is it anywhere near their worst. And I don't really know or care whether it's a cool thing to say in 2010 but it's the best track on the album so far.

Also appearing on: Now 15, 16, 18, 22, 27, 28, 35, 36, 41, 42
Available on: Solid Bronze - Great Hits

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