Nancy & Lee, Dolly & Kenny… certain male and females vocals were designed to go together; Paul & Jacqui belong near the top of that list. As the voices of The Beautiful South (thankfully they don’t have had that plastered across tour posters) their to-and-fro woes from the grim North gave the band their most successful years. Now, as simply Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, their second album within two years continues where What Have We Become? began.
Lead-single ‘The Austerity Of Love’ hinted at a shift in style, with a reggae rhythm and sweet, nursery rhymes through the chorus, offering a familiar message with a twist. While never one to stick solidly with one sound (the blues of ‘Perfect 10’ or gentles lulls of ‘A Little Time’ for example), Wisdom, Laughter And Lines varies more than its predecessor. ‘(Man Is) The Biggest Bitch Of All’ opens with lo-fi, indie-pop keys not unlike Arcade Fire, before shifting to familiar topics (“The man I caught in bed wearing my best friend”).
Two standout tracks are stark opposites, however: ‘Heatongrad’ is Paul at his peak, opening with “Fuck the King and fuck the Queen with an AK-47” – from The Beautiful South to the Deep South, with country twangs and cut-throat observations. ‘Sundial In The Shade’ follows, highlighting Jacqui’s voice with a song inspired by the the tracks that influenced her (a cover of ‘Loving Arms’ got her the job with the band, and became a favourite of live shows since their return).
Breakdowns, builds and echoed backing vocals throughout the bridge of ‘I Don’t See Them’ offer a theatrical tone, while closer ‘You, The Mountain And Me’ is somewhere between all aforementioned tracks. There’s still the simple, effortless sound most associated with the duo, however, given a Cockney makeover on ‘Queen Of Soho’ (“So come on girls unleash your curls don’t be feeling sad”) and ‘No One Wants To Stay’.
With Heaton’s unapologetic honesty and the duo’s instantly recognisable vocals tying the collection together, it’s another unlikely hit and a modest, modern classic.
Wisdom, Laughter And Lines is out now via Virgin EMI Records.