The Beautiful South Aim To Quench Thirst for Stateside Acceptance

Britpop septet builds on staggering U.K. success with seventh album, due in the U.S. early this year.

Their record company calls them "the most successful British writing partnership since

Lennon and McCartney."

Marketing hype aside, the claim is not without some validity: Songwriting pair Paul

Heaton and Dave Rotheray of the pop septet the Beautiful South have produced 19

consecutive hits and two consecutive multi-platinum albums in their native England.

Yet the 10-year-old band still can't seem to cut a break in the United States.

American critics love them -- Robert Christgau dedicated an entire Village Voice

column to them last year -- but Americans just won't buy their records, and radio won't

play them.

Now, with a new album, Quench, due to be released in the United States early

this year, the members of the Beautiful South once again are poised to watch their

success hit a brick wall on the western shores of the Atlantic.

But they approach that wall with a mixture of acceptance and optimism.

"It's a bit similar to when we started in Britain," guitarist Rotheray, 35, said. "The concerts

are smaller here, which is refreshing. The audience here is better, because in Britain

we're a big hit; here we're a big secret."

In Britain, the Beautiful South's 1994 singles compilation, Carry On Up the Charts,

lived up to its title and stayed at #1 for six straight weeks, becoming one of the

biggest-selling albums in British history. The group still sells out show after show in

England.

Its failure to fare as well in the United States defies easy explanation.

"It's difficult with a band who's been around a long time," Rotheray suggested. "It's hard

to get people jazzed up about a band who's been around England for 10 years.

"Maybe we're too idiosyncratic and English, which I don't think is true," he continued. "I

think Americans like idiosyncrasy. Look at [ex-Smiths singer] Morrissey. Americans don't

want an English band to look and sound like [mainstream hard-rockers] Aerosmith."

Rotheray and vocalist Heaton met -- and still reside -- in Hull, a once-thriving, currently

depressed English industrial town. Heaton, now 36, had just finished up his role as a

popular frontman for '80s Brit-pop chartbusters the Housemartins, and Rotheray was

looking for a new project.

Since the Beautiful South released their first single, "Song for Whoever," in 1989, the

lineup has morphed slightly, yielding a current lineup of Heaton; Rotheray; vocalist

Jacqueline Abbott, 25; vocalist Dave Hemingway, 38; bassist Sean Welch, 33; drummer

David Stead, 32; and keyboardist Damon Butcher.

Their somewhat enigmatic songs mix irony, desperation, a solid base of Brit-pop, the

looseness of jazz and the earnest lyrics of soul. Beautiful South songs of the past offered

up such warped scenarios as that of "Woman in the Wall," a quirky tune about a man

who buries his wife in the wall and ends up losing it when "the rotting wall began to drip."

They also courted controversy, as in the songs "36D," "I Love You, But You're Boring"

and "Don't Marry Her (F--- Me)." Other songs were simply out-and-out melancholy, such

as the 1997 single, "Liar's Bar" (RealAudio excerpt),

with its lyric, "Well sitting in a bar alone where no one knows your name/ Is like laying in

a graveyard wide awake."

Quench features a new strain of Beautiful South music. While still throwing the

listener an ironic bone for good measure, the album's songs are a mite more upbeat, as

in "Perfect 10," a horn-spiced dance romp with duet vocals that quip, "She's a perfect 10,

but she wears a 12/ Baby keep a little 2 for me."

Quench, which already has charted in the U.K., boasts clean production, unique

arrangements and even some percussion production from Fatboy Slim DJ (and former

Housemartins bassist) Norman Cook.

The songs still contain the honesty and wit associated with the Beautiful South, but they

also suggest that lyricist Heaton has come to realize that love sometimes can

work.

"I think maybe it was an attempt to sound more mature," Heaton said of the new songs. "I

think the danger with a band like ourselves is that people think we think every love story

goes tragically wrong."

If the Beautiful South's new optimism is any indication, the band's relationship with

American listeners may have a happy ending after all.