Review: “Quench” by The Beautiful South (CD, 1998)

Today’s Pop Rescue from an uncertain fate, is the 1998 sixth album Quench by British pop-rock group The Beautiful South. Will this album Quench a thirst, or is better left on The Table with the other empties? Read on…

The Beautiful South - Quench (1998) album
The Beautiful South – Quench (1998) album

This 13 track CD opens with some blues guitars of How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry, which soon drops in some shakers and Jacqueline Abbotts soft vocals sit perfectly here – confident and in great contrast to the voice of Paul Heaton who soon turns up alongside her on the mic. This is a fairly bright and cheerful song, and it builds well from the guitars and shuffling percussion, through to flute. The subtle lyrical humour lurks here, and you’ll hear a line end its unravelling on the word ‘pass’ and teasingly not rhyme it with ‘ass’. It’s a nice gentle beginning to the album. The track was the album’s third single, giving them a #12 hit.

Next is The Lure Of The Sea, and we’re treated to some wonderful sounding acoustic guitars, and some simple melodies. Paul takes the lead vocals here, and he makes light work of it. Jacqui joins in for the chorus. The inclusion of little brass (trombone?), and what sounds like a fairground organ (perhaps linking to the sea-side theme). It’d probably sound happy on an Oasis album with Liam growling the vocals out.

Some wonderful piano opens next song Big Coin, and it’s a nice slow ballad with Paul on the mic. We’re treated to plenty of the piano, but it is gradually added to by strings, bass, and rimshots. This song is heavy on the narrative that some Beautiful South songs focus sharply on, and this one about ‘big coin’, just feels a bit dull in topic. Musically it is a lovely warm song.

Dumb is next, and this was the album’s second single, and the tempo picks up. We’re treated to some wonderfully layered sounds of piano, guitars, backing vocals and synth strings. Once again, Paul is on the mic and he gets some unusual words into this song. Listen out for the labrador and Robert the Bruce. It’s a nice wafting song, and it took them to #16 in the UK singles chart.

Lead single Perfect 10 follows that, and this rightly gave them a #2 UK hit. The song is musically and vocally brooding, and the interplay between Paul and Jacqueline’s vocals are wonderful – Paul is definitely channeling Elvis Presley repeatedly throughout this song. Their vocal harmonies in the chorus really work as well, ensuring this fun song is catchy and loaded with sexual innuendo. Tucked away on guitar is Paul Weller.

With what sounds like my old Yamaha PSR keyboard, we’re into The Slide. This is another slightly clunky Beautiful South narrative song, and I wonder whether they had a big wheel of nouns that they spun in the writing process and then wrote a song about it. Once you’re beyond the analogies and the old-style synths, it’s actually a nice song and that’s aided by the contrast of Paul’s vocals, Jacqui’s occasional contributions, but also the London Community Gospel Choir, who help to fill the gaps and lift the vocals, particularly shining in the latter part of the song.

Look What I Found In My Beer follows that, and it starts with a simple ‘dum dum dum’ vocal over a distant sampled beat before the group kicks in. This song is about finding things inside other things, we start with beer, move on to gin, then a drum, a mic, a guitar, drink, and then a dance. It’s a cheerful uplifting playful song, even if it ends somewhat abruptly.

The piano returns again, this time for The Table. The piano carries you throughout, and is joined by Paul and a wonderful bass alongside it. The piano commands here, and keeps the song moving well. It’s a fairly catchy little song, but it stalled at #46 when it was released as the album’s final single.

The slightly dated synths return for the could-only-be-The-Beautiful-South-who-named-this-song song – Window Shopping For Blinds. Whilst the song adopts their usual level of humour and narrative, the song is a bit awkward, and not a catchy singalong track.

That’s followed by the guitar of Pockets, in what sounds like a shift in sound for the group. In the context of this song, ‘pockets’ is the name of a person. Paul has the mic, and he delivers his vocals with great ease as a fairly funky guitar and bass guitar riff lures you along this mid-tempo track. It’s a really nice track.

I May Be Ugly is next, and this gives the album another a shift in sound, sounding like Paul may have grabbed a few beers before taking the mic. The track even begins with the line ‘with a face like a crab’s bus ticket’, like we’re supposed to know what that means. The song is ugly.

That’s followed by Losing Things, and this instantly feels like a return to the comfortable and cheerful sound that gives them the hits. The track effortlessly shuffles along, as guitars, vocals and piano weave their way through the verses to the chorus. Paul takes the mic again, and has thankfully sobered up to deliver this really nice gentle track. There’s a great guitar solo in the final third of the track, before the track ends on a surprise guitar.

That flows seamlessly into the closing track – Your Father And I. This starts off very gently as piano tinkles along as bass joins in over some simple percussion. Guitars pick up, the piano gains confidence, as does the percussion as Paul and Jacqui take turns in the verses. The track is a bit subdued, but builds very steadily throughout. It’s a nice gentle ending to the album.

The Beautiful South’s lead single ‘Perfect 10’ (1998).

Verdict

Over all, this album is nice. What else did you expect from a band that consistently deliver ‘nice’ singles – never superb, never a stinker. Just nice middle-of-the-road songs.

The highlight is of course the brilliant lead single – Perfect 10, but Pockets, How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry?, and Losing Things are all notable nods of brilliance here – managing to deliver cheerful, playful songs, with that clear Beautiful South observational humour.

There are a few mis-steps though, the worst offender being the aptly named I May Be Ugly, but closely followed by the dull Big Coin and Window Shopping For Blinds. These last two are just not interesting and lacking in direction or structure.

It’s likely that your mother would enjoy this album more than you (mine would), as it’s a gentle meander through 12 songs written and performed by very capable musicians. It just lacks enough of the good energy all the way through that was present in previous album Blue Is The Colour.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2019 REVIEW RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1998 UK CHART PEAK POSITION: #1, certified 3x Platinum by the BPI.
  • POP RESCUE 2019 COST: £1.99 from an Oxfam store.

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