Biscuit Boy A.K.A Crackerman Fat Chance

This mysterious Biscuit Boy (or Crackerman, if you prefer) happens to be none other than Paul Heaton, the vocalist and songwriter for two of the UK's biggest musical acts, the Housemartins and, subsequently, the Beautiful South. While the latter have by no means folded, it seems that Mr. Heaton has a musical bee in his bonnet and needed to cut loose on his own with Fat Chance. The result? Fortunately, this is not an attempt at an "experimental" record, nor is it a foray into dance music like his former band-mate Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim). Instead, as Biscuit Boy he delivers a great pile of catchy guitar pop that hearkens back to the days of earlier Beautiful South albums, such as Choke or 0898. Anyone who has followed their career will have to admit that the last couple of Beautiful South records have been embarrassingly mainstream, "middle of the road" schmaltz that seemed to be best suited to elevators or malls. Perhaps Heaton was feeling trapped in their soft pop formula and needed an outlet for his sharp, witty take on English culture. On Fat Chance he has accomplished this nicely. The tracks each tell a story, and the arrangements are kept simple, which is great. Heaton's Beautiful South partner Dave Rotheray even helps out on "Mitch," and there are various guest vocalists and musicians, with his primary band-mates here being Martin Slattery and Scott Shields of Joe Strummer's Mescaleros. This is by no means an edgy, challenging record, however, I suspect the sound is much more true to Heaton's musical spirit than his recent releases with his "proper" band. (Mercury)