Following on from Guy Garvey's smooth solemnity last week brings us back to the eighties with another great voice, Paul Heaton and his debut record with famed band The Housemartins, London 0 Hull 4.
As a sound, the music that The Housemartins produced was at times compared unfavourably to The Smiths, where Heaton's voice on jangly tracks such as Anxious sounded similar to that of Morrissey's. Unlike The Smiths however, The Housemartins offered hard-hitting lyrics in catchy melodies. The aforementioned Anxious discusses the industrial destruction of the Thatcher age and how government officials are "raising all their eyebrows at the raising of the pound/While they raze another city to the ground". With The Housemartins, you got catchy pop songs infused with clever lyricism about left-wing politics and Christianity. There's prodigious talent shown within Heaton's songwriting and compared to Morrissey, he offers a bit more substance and insightful commentary.
This left-wing stance is threaded through the album, which, without that immediately accessible jangle guitar sound from Stan Cullimore, may not have made this one of the better-selling albums of the eighties, especially with a Conservative government in power at the time. Freedom, one of the album's final tracks deals with such an issue. Backed by a riff similar to fellow left-wingers The Jam, Heaton delivers lines about the media's political preferences and press freedoms, as if he's talking directly to a newspaper. He talks of how
"From the front page news to the interviews/It's sink the reds and lift the blues/They pretend they're differing points of view/But it's only different shades of blue". As a song itself, Freedom is one of the catchier ones present on London 0 Hull 4 with its infectious guitar riff and fantastic vocal. As well as closing with such a combination, London 0 Hull 4 also opens with it, thanks to the highly catchy and popular Happy Hour. At just over two minutes in length, it is one of the shorter songs on this record, but that doesn't mean that it's any less brilliant. Its upbeat nature is completely deceptive, as Heaton rips into the antics of managers in white-collar occupations on work nights out.
There's yet more political swipes present on the likes of Sheep, which takes stabs at political apathy and how it's these apathetic people that the left are up against. This could be Heaton placing the blame on such floating voters as to why Thatcher got her second term in 1983. The preceding Sitting On A Fence introduces this idea of apathy and heeds a warning to listeners that doing naff all isn't helping out the Red cause, through his characterisation of a man who "swings from poll to poll" or "sees both sides of both sides". As well as the political swipes and marvellous social commentary that London 0 Hull 4 provides, it also lets the music do the talking. On tracks like Reverend's Revenge, there's none of these insightful lyrics, where instead there's a fast-paced riff similar to the one on Happy Hour, as well as some intermittent yet rhythmic harmonica and some nice drums which helps to separate out the politics and offer some light relief.
The album closes with a more solemn vocal, backed by a piano on I'll Be Your Shelter (Just Like A Shelter) that offers something a bit more emotional and conventional. It's a great song, and there's a really powerful voice present that is helped along by the rest of the band. There's a certain gospel quality to it, providing a nice close to an album brimmed with brilliant songwriting, fantastic instrumentation and an eclectic mix of tracks to suit every listener.
London 0 Hull 4 really is an album that will never grow old. It's as clean and carefree as it was when it released back in the eighties. The Housemartins' jangly guitars and catchy hooks will never age, which means they're fit for any occasion, and it just means we can admire Heaton's brilliant lyricism and the rest of the band's great backing till the end of time.
If you want to pick up a copy, I'll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/2EmuaeB
Or, there's a Spotify link below if you'd prefer:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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