Paul Heaton / Jacqui Abbott

What Have We Become?

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A wonderful mix of caustic and clever, British band the Beautiful South broke up in 2007 thanks to "musical similarities," but the two voices of the group reunite on this 2014 treasure, and it's like everything that's old is new again. What Have We Become? opens with a familiar, crisply hit snare, a bright piano that whisks the melody away to a sunshine place, and the heavenly harmonies of Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, and yet, in the lyrics there are diamonds being shoved into mouths plus a Gil Scott-Heron interpolation that goes "The revolution will not be televised/And neither will your death" as if the Smiths just got hip. Of course, meat isn't necessarily murder to this duo, but packaged ham and hot dogs are close enough, as the title track paints an obese picture with "chicken wings have replaced all the fun" and "pizza boxes block out the sun," this consumer report being delivered over the kind of majestic pop arrangement folks like Dionne Warwick favored in the late '60s. Speaking of vintage, the music of "When I Get Back to Blighty" bounces between the sound of the Fleetwoods and old-school R&B, but Abbott's "Of all the rotten places, I miss the rot the most" is post-punk prose entering middle age with true style. It's not just current events as "The Right in Me" and "Stupid Tears" are brokenhearted numbers straight from the Beautiful South playbook, plus the latter is a tight rocker on an album that can play it like either Burt Bacharach or Marc Bolan. Warm moments exist among all this wry stuff as "The Snowman" winds up sweet while "You're Gonna Miss Me" celebrates the everyman with the joyful spirit of Van Morrison's "Cleaning Windows." Anyone who enjoys their pop with extra wry and some sobering awareness should love What Have We Become?, but it's the Beautiful South faithful who will rightfully gush over the release, as these antiheroes have lost none of their touch or fatalistic flair.

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