The Beautiful South

Painting It Red

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The Beautiful South once again run aground with diminishing sales, bungled CD pressings, and -- probably the most troubling -- the reported departure of longtime vocalist Jacqueline Abbott. Still, the band had always managed to sound unflinchingly upbeat amidst bleak situations in the past, and Painting It Red comes off, in some ways, grinning more like an unsuspecting teenager than ever before. The band's staples of lyrical chicanery and mid-'80s inbred folk-pop are still lurking about apologizing to no one. Which might strike longtime listeners with the force of wet asparagus (what with predictably Heaton-esque lines like "Don't feel ever sorry for the dicks" or the kind of over-produced jangle this side of Orange Juice and Tears for Fears mud-wrestling for five hours, it's arguable the template has run its course), but -- nevertheless -- it can strike others of a band mastering their own roots. It's a challenge the album poses now and again. Single "Closer Than Most" is instantly likable, yet wouldn't be so out of step with Welcome to the Beautiful South. "You Can Call Me Leisure," a saucy, subtle duet rolling around on a bed of prancing pianos, is about as antagonistic to the band's discography as Menswear's "Daydreamer" is to Wire. But there's definitely something here that makes it hard to hate. This is a path much taken that still somehow promises rewards after ten years of traveling. Odd even while surrounded by new rumors of imminent breakup. If this marks the South's final statement, then so be it -- at least they went out with a blast of delusional air.

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