Sunday, October 23, 2022

‘N.K-Pop’ from Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott is the new soundtrack for life’s dramas

N.K-Pop’ is an agnostic collection of various genres thrown together behind sometimes-stylish, often acerbic and occasionally-painful lyrics. The bouncing, jangling melodies that characterise Heaton’s work from The Housemartins, through The Beautiful South and now into his collaboration with Jacqui Abbott are catchy and pleasing at first listen with their blend of pop, indie, rock, country, blues and ska. 

The lyrics of ‘N.K-Pop’ also really work their way into the psyche with repeated plays. Abbot brings a smooth country and western vocal quality to Heaton’s sharper tones – a combination which worked well in The Beautiful South and continues to work throughout the twelve tracks in this latest release.

Featuring themes such as bereavement, infidelity, cancer, unwanted amorous attention and the death of a child, there’s much here to resonate with if you’ve lived long enough to have experienced any of these traumas. If not, listen and learn because all of these and more are woven with harmonies that will have you reaching for the ‘replay’ button.

N.K-Pop’ bursts into life with the opening track ‘The Good Times’ – a bouncy pop tune featuring a story which grows in darkness. Starting as a complaint of an unreliable lover, the story ends with the revelation that she didn’t leave, she was taken by cancer. Overall, it’s a song that tells a familiar story to any listener who has lost a loved one, a story of resentment masked by distractions and deviations.

This opening volley is quickly followed up by the equally upbeat ‘Too Much for One (Not Enough for Two)’, a song which dates the music with a video featuring Trevor and Simon, two comedians familiar to anyone who enjoyed their Coco Pops in front of the TV on a Saturday morning through the late 1980s and 1990s. The whole Heaton and Abbott sound is firmly rooted in the 90s, which is nostalgic for anyone old enough to remember them the first time or enjoy them now as a return to the happier, simpler times discussed in the fifth track, ‘When the World Would Actually Listen’.

Still’ tells the story of a stillbirth. It’s an unimaginable subject that is handled delicately, exposing the emotional pain of parents without trivialising the trauma for a cheap rhyme; “Still got you with me / She’s still got the scar / Still got the child seat / Strapped in the car/You might have passed on / But you’re never that far / And we will love you still”.

Baby It’s Cold Inside’ starts as a cover version of the 1944 Christmas favourite ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ before abruptly switching direction, much in the way that a professional relationship might be corrupted into something more undesirable by the advances of someone who struggles with personal boundaries. “You’ve tried being subtle, you’ve ended up rude/In between sarcastic, foul mouthed and crude / But this gathering storm is not one you brewed / Baby it’s cold inside”. The ‘inside’ referred to is the prison cell that awaits those who don’t know how to keep their distance. “Driving instructor’s hand on the knee / Too drunk to drive or just lost his key / Stick ‘em in slammer at the old HMP/Baby it’s cold, maybe he’s bold/But baby he’s better inside”.

N.K-Pop’ concludes with ‘His Master’s Game’, a quirky ballad that addresses the politics of the class divide in which us ordinary folk are taught to fight each other for the benefit of some higher power. “His master’s game, divide and rule / To pitch the clown against the fool”.

Overall, ‘N.K-Pop’ tells stories with small details rather than sweeping vistas, bringing a sense of reality to the music, a sense that the authors have actually lived through these dramas. If you like music that helps you find words to express your own life’s ups and downs then you should devote 43 minutes and 40 seconds of your life to Heaton and Abbott’s version of events.


Peter Freeth / 

Image: 'N.K-Pop' Official Album Cover

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment Here;