After the critical and commercial success of 2014's What Have We Become?, which catapulted to number three on the U.K. albums chart for the artists' biggest hit since their Beautiful South days, Paul Heaton and the previously retired (from music) Jacqui Abbott rejoin a year later for the equally satisfying Wisdom, Laughter and Lines. Songwriter Heaton's comprehensive knowledge of and enthusiasm for pop music is on full display again, with songs that hit on Motown, reggae, honky tonk, post-punk, and Eastern European folk, among other styles. Also returning are the songwriter's acerbic wordcraft and talent for ear-catching melodies. The opener, "(Man Is) The Biggest Bitch of All," shows off all of these as a jaunty, '70s Motown-like tune that has Abbott responding to an offer with "Come away with who?...The man who promised that he'd love me 'til the very end/Or the one I caught in family bed…wearing my best friend." "The Austerity of Love" ("the propensity, the depravity, the austerity...") delivers its message via bright reggae, and Heaton does his best Morrissey impression on the consummate "The Horse and Groom" ("This arthritic pain in the pouring rain/Whilst inside on the jukebox Tammy sings again"). Heaton also takes on social issues, per usual, as in the mocking "Lonesome and Sad Millionaire" and the anti-monarchy (among other establishments) "Heatongrad." Songwriting aside, there are also the legendary voices, which go great together now as ever on an album recommended for all who can embrace biting (and very often funny) lyrics and the lovingly nostalgic trip through musical styles.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson