Beautiful South Painting It Red

Ten years into their career as the Beautiful South, the songwriting duo of Paul Heaton and Dave Rotheray play it safe here with their seventh studio album. Back in the '80s, these gents caught everyone's ear as the Housemartins, and while former bass player Norman Cook joined the world of dance music (now Fatboy Slim), Heaton and Rotheray continued on with their own peculiar brand of sharp, satiric pop. While strong early albums like Choke or 0898 hinted that this was no cock-up Housemartins, version 2.0, Painting It Red shows the strains of a band running out of new ideas. The music is certainly not terrible and there are good moments, such as "Baby Please Go" or "10,000 Feet." Sadly, though, the formula remains too similar to other recent disappointing albums, like Quench. A notorious clean-liver prior to the Beautiful South, singer Heaton admits that drink and drugs took hold over the last ten years and he has subsequently cleaned up his act as of late. This is all well and good, and although there is a noticeable improvement, the album still lacks a certain spark. Yes, they have still managed to sell zillions of records in the UK and Europe, but even they admit that their popularity is accredited primarily to the older, more "mature" music buyer. This is too bad in many ways, since the well-written and often political lyrics will be lost on those doing dishes to their music. Ballads and soft-pop are the order of the day and it's a formula that has worked well, so why screw with it? Long-time fans will no doubt find comfortable ground here, but those who are looking for material on par with their debut, or simply curious, need not apply. (Universal)