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Pretty on the outside

Beautiful South -- sardonic again

The Beautiful South

By Donna Freydkin
Reporting for CNN Interactive

August 4, 1999
Web posted at: 12:14 p.m. EDT (1614 GMT)

(CNN) - Let's just say you're part of a band that, at home in England, has racked up a lot of Top 20 hits -- say 20 of them. In a decade, you've released seven albums, most critically and commercially victorious.

Your 1994 greatest-hits compilation astonished even your followers, spending weeks at the top of the British charts and selling three million copies. You've headlined London's Fleadh Festival and opened for R.E.M. You're rich. You're sort-of-famous. But outside home base, you're all but invisible.

To add insult to injury, your former bandmate happens to be global electronic dance king Norman Cook, better known as Fatboy Slim, mastermind of the 1998 album "You've Come a Long Way, Baby."

Bitter? Not even close, say members of The Beautiful South, the productive but nearly anonymous British outfit specializing in moody, stinging pop melodies.

"We didn't go out of our way to not be too visible," says bassist Sean Welch. "It just worked out that way. But we truly believe in promoting the band, not the people within it. "Paul (Heaton, lead singer) and Jacqui (Abbott) get recognized some when they go out. But the rest of us are invisible, really."

And that, says Welch, is exactly how the band likes it. Because somewhere between the much-publicized rivalry between British bands Oasis and Blur -- and the sudden solo ascent of former Take That singer Robbie Williams -- lies The Beautiful South, one of the most prolific and least-flashy names in England's music scene.

"Perfect 10"
[160k MPEG-3] or [215k WAV]

"How Long's a Tear Take to Dry?"
[190k MPEG-3] or [260k WAV]

"The Lure of the Sea"
[140k MPEG-3] or [195k WAV]

(Courtesy Mercury Records)

More of the same

And The Beautiful South isn't holding its collective breath that its seventh release, "Quench," will suddenly transform it into a global pop sensation.

Released in Europe in 1998, the album is already a hit in England. Former bandmate Cook, "changing some bass lines," says Welch, "adding a few sounds and generally giving it a more contemporary sound.

"He livened up the album. But we always do the same thing, really," says Welch. "It's not very interesting. That's why the more sarcastic and unusual songs stand out to people. But basically, we don't know how to make 'un-tuneful' music."

That "same thing" consists largely of soaring melodies built around acerbic lyrics. Prime example is the single "Perfect 10," which deals with superficial attraction and relationships: "Cause we love our love / In different sizes / I love her body / Especially the lies / Time takes its toll / But not on the eyes."

The band will be introducing its album -- out in the United States since mid-July -- to American audiences during its current tour opening for the Barenaked Ladies.

"We hope the U.S. tour will introduce us to people who haven't heard of us," says Welch, "but we're not holding our breath that we'll really get a huge following. Mainly, we're just coming to take a nice vacation."

Fertile ground

The Beautiful South formed from the ashes of the British pop band the Housemartins after it broke up in 1988. Cook moved into dance music.

A year later, singer Heaton and drummer Dave Hemingway teamed up with Welch on bass, drummer David Stead and guitarist David Rotheray to form The Beautiful South, a band specializing in lush vocal harmonies bolstered by jazzy arrangements. Vocalist Briana Corrigan rounded out the ensemble.

The band's 1989 debut single "Song For Whoever" peaked at No. 2 on the British charts and included the line "I love you from the bottom of my pencil case." The debut "Welcome to The Beautiful South" impressed both critics and record buyers and paved the way for a string of hit albums and singles -- 1994's "Miaow" (which introduced vocalist Abbott, who replaced outgoing Corrigan) and 1997's "Blue is the Colour."

The band has switched labels three times in the last two years and is now with Mercury. But members say the upheaval didn't affect the making of "Quench" in the least.

Circle of friends

The Beautiful South has garnered a devoted following at home, thanks to the band's ability to cushion rancorous lyrics in rich harmonies. The band sang about alcoholism on "Old Red Eyes Is Back" and ridiculed overly dependant relationships on "We Are Each Other." Yet despite -- or maybe because of -- its low-key style (no bar-room brawls, bankruptcies or scandalous romantic entanglements for this bunch), the band hasn't made too much of a dent outside England.

Unless United States listeners have a particular penchant for British pop à la Oasis or Blur, they've probably never heard of The Beautiful South.

"We've given up hope about being famous in the States," says Welch. "It doesn't matter to us, at this point. We can get by without it. We just never really worked that hard to make it in the States and I guess that's why we don't have a big following over there."

By some counts published in the British press, one out of every seven Britons owns an album by The Beautiful South, including the massively popular 1994 greatest hits collection, "Carry on up the Charts." But even in Britain, these recording artists aren't household names or faces.

"We don't feel or act like a hot-selling band," says Welch. "We lead simple lifestyles -- no yachts or anything like that. We just don't feel much different."

They're just buddies, says Welch, who happen to enjoy making music together. The members keep each other grounded and try to nip any egoism in the bud. The original members of The Beautiful South have been together now for a decade.

"We enjoy playing music and being in each others' company. It's good fun," says Welch. "But the one thing we never discuss when we're together is the band itself or politics."

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The Beautiful South official Web site
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