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Paul Heaton presents

With The 8th, he proves himself adept at helming a more ambitious project.

This soul opera of sorts was commissioned for the 2011 Manchester International Festival, where it was billed as "one of the longest pop songs ever", and produced by respected theatre company Paines Plough. Heaton has described it as "one song, eight different melodies", inspired by the seven deadly sins, with Heaton also suggesting "the 8th" and most heinous sin for the 21st century.

The piece comprises a song for each sin sung by a different guest vocalist, including soulful Scots King Creosote and Aaron Wright, and Heaton’s former vocal foil Jacqui Abbott, performing for the first time since leaving The Beautiful South, interspersed with an unfolding narrative set in a rundown neighbourhood, written by actor/playwright Che Walker.

Although Heaton’s musical signature can still be discerned here and there, the world he and Walker have evoked is pure American pulp.

Heaton and his fellow composers Dave Rotheray and Jonny Lexus complement this menacing atmosphere with a stylish, cinematic backing, not unlike the imaginary film noir influenced soundtracks that Magazine bassist Barry Adamson has been producing for the past 25 years (if there’s any justice, he’ll win the next commission).

Ominous strings and snippets from a US police radio channel set the scene for Panther a brooding trip hop number with Cathey prowling around the verses and drawing the class and colour battlelines from the off and the inexorable electro industrial march of Pharaoh’s Boot. There will be lighter moments to come though not so much of Heaton’s trademark dry humour.

A sample of an American preacher dovetails into Cathey’s rich narration, which he attacks like a fire and brimstone testifier ("a street where a police flashlight can lacerate a dream") mixed with the sage omniscience of a Greek chorus ("we sing to keep from strangling and we dance to keep from dying"). It’s poetic stuff and Cathey is a
replica ray ban sunglasses convincing representative of this world of "the butcher, the baker and the Haitian undertaker".

A story unfolds of a protagonist who committed a senseless murder, is haunted by his victim’s "strawberry type birthmark" but, having served his time, is trying to rebuild his life.

The villainous Officer Pork Pork, who wears "carapace insectoid Ray Bans", drives a "lethal squad car" and is the personification of "the 8th", hounds him like a guilty conscience, but ultimately there is an opportunity for redemption and closure through a chance encounter.

However,
cheap ray bans the sin songs could probably stand apart
replica ray bans as an album of cautionary parables in their own right. Heaton has assembled an impressive vocal ensemble, though none of the guest singers particularly embody their given sin. Gospel singer Yvonne Shelton lights a fire under Sloth, while Hull based country singer Mike Greaves brings
cheap ray bans nobility to folk anthem Pride. Lust seems more concerned with suspicion and paranoia, while the menacing indie rocker Wrath has more to say about opportunism and exploitation.

King Creosote is the man for the playful, lopsided Gluttony, which is darkened by references to Vietnam and Hiroshima. Cherry Ghost frontman Simon Aldred follows this with a plaintive, expressive vocal on Greed, backed by a soothing vocal hum, reminiscent of The Housemartins’ harmony singing. Abbott cannot help but evoke the breeziness of The Beautiful South when she takes the microphone for Envy.

Stalking them all is the mysterious "8th" which is finally revealed by Heaton himself to be Gossip the 8th deadly sin of the modern age, which can do its worst "with the shrapnel of poverty on the minefield of gullibility". In true Heaton style, these portentous words are tempered by a jaunty singalong ska knees up, while Steve Menzies keeps the musical mood celebratory and the lyrical message toxic on Coda.

Rather than go out on a bittersweet note, Cathey swoops in for the final uplifting chapter of his sermon, concluding that "divinity is within". This might not be a message you would expect to hear from Heaton but that is surely part of the appeal of this absorbing if flawed project.

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