The Housemartins

The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death

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Comparisons to the Smiths are essentially irrelevant by the point of the Housemartins' underrated sophomore effort -- the melodies and arrangements move away from the upbeat guitar pop shimmer of London 0, Hull 4 to further explore the group's fascination with Motown and gospel, while P.D. Heaton's lyrics articulate a leftist anger and scathing social commentary the likes of which Morrissey's insularly personal lyrics only hint at. (Equally noteworthy is the defiantly British outlook of Heaton's songs -- it's virtually impossible from an American standpoint to fully comprehend the sheer vitriol against the Queen espoused on the title cut, and lyrical snippets like "How come you wear Rupert Check when you think you're so hard?" and "Welcome to the new Scalextric's breed" are likely impenetrable to all but the hardiest Anglophiles.) There's some filler here -- "We're Not Going Back" and "You Better Be Doubtful" simply go through the motions, and the instrumental "Pirate Aggro" seems at best an afterthought -- but the peaks of The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death are glorious. In hindsight, however, it's obvious that the Housemartins had already run their course -- with its alternating lead vocals from Heaton and drummer Dave Hemingway, the achingly lovely piano ballad closer "Build" forecasts the twosome's continued collaboration in the Beautiful South, while the subtle yet soulful bass work of Norman Cook throughout the record anticipates the funk direction of his subsequent Beats International project.

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