Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Unlike most of the two-year wonders who achieve instant renown in the United Kingdom whilst scarcely denting college radio here, the Housemartins deserved better. On the surface they were one more feckless, jangling pop band. But with dulcet-voiced Paul Heaton tensing lyrics worthy of a bomb-throwing skinhead against guitarist Stan Cullimore's uncommonly fetching tunes--imagine an honor student at the conservatory crooning "Don't kill someone tomorrow/That you could kill today" for an inkling of the effect--they packed a wicked aftershock. Given the sorry success rate of such followups as General Public and the Style Council, however, their 1988 breakup seemed to be the end of them.

But now come two terrific yet utterly dissimilar spinoff albums. Welcome to the Beautiful South (Elektra) is the one that sounds like the Housemartins, except that its surface is even more feckless and dulcet: drummer-turned-vocalist Dave Hemmingway trades sugarlumps with Heaton, the political edge is gone, and keyboards cut into the jangle that new guitarist David Rotheray isn't much given to anyway. Keep listening, though, and Rotheray's melodies start to sink in. Then you notice that Song for Whoever is mean pop satire as well as shamelesslly pretty pop, and that the Woman in the Wall was put there by a husband who "enjoyed a pint or two or three or four." Aftershocks galore.

In one respect, former Housemartins bassist Norman Cook is less complex: Beats International's Let Them Eat Bingo (Elektra) means to be as happy as it sounds. But Cook's methods are anything but simple. A DJ in Hull since his band disbanded, Cook has created the mixing record music lovers dream about--with bits of Afropop and Delta blues and disco and folk-strum and every kind of pop-funk hybrid segued together into a universal dance music that earns its billing, nothing is forbidden and everything fits. The only people immune to music this universal are copyright lawyers.

Playboy, May 1990


Apr. 1990 June 1990