Skip to main content

Album Review: What Have We Become by Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott

MATTHEW COLLINS finds that, nearly 15 years after Jacqui Abbott's departure from The Beautiful South, she and Paul Heaton still have the strength to throw political and personal Molotov cocktails

Reunited after 15 years, Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott have come up with the outstanding new album What Have We Become.

It’s the result of singer Abbott finally returning from teaching, parenting and a stint at Age Concern to assist Heaton’s ageless musical gripes, observations and emotional Molotov cocktails over the finishing line once more.

And, for the first time in over a decade, Heaton finds himself with a top-10 album as seditious and delicious as anything he’s written before.

Guitarist Johnny Lexus has orchestrated a soundtrack perfect for the pair’s angelic assassination, so much so that Sting and Phil Collins — both of whom cop a delicious mouthful — will be looking nervously under their beds at night.

As promised, it’s a political album. One Man’s England takes on the likes of the EDL and the “white man’s burden” with raw and deserved venom.

And you don’t need to be smashing guitars and throwing televisions when title track What Have We Become and The Right In Me implore the listener to actually empathise with rage: “What have we become?/Said the mother to her half-ton son/Chicken wings have replaced the thumb/that’s what we’ve become.”

Neither do you have to be Father Of The year to find Advice To Daughters a perfect soundtrack to kick in your own TV screen while tearfully clutching the family photo album: “Let our very children/sold as X-factor cattle/be stripped in teenage battle/as slabs of beef from bone.”

Some pop kids will have grown up not knowing of this pair. They’ll just have to imagine Mum and Dad have moved back next door to each other to continue a lifelong love affair of mutual self-loathing and romantic trips to graveyards.

Those kids should listen to Costa Del Sombre or Some Dancing To Do, where Abbott picks up where she left off in the Beautiful South — singing whimsy in a kitchen somewhere, dreaming of dancing or holidaying away from her lot in life while the kids are down the chip shop. “She’s got some drinking/she’s got some dancing/to do,” Abbott sings as the Spanish trumpets and Heaton serenade her sense of loss.

But this is not a throwaway album. Every word and note is crafted as a reminder that “pop,” with its folk and country roots, can be more than just the background to commercialism. It should be the start of something that changes and influences.

That being the case, Gary Barlow probably won’t like it. So whether the kids will actually “get” it doesn’t matter. Heaton and Abbott have thrown the first brick in the revolution for them. Again.

Stand-out tracks: Costa Del Sombra, DIY, Advice To Daughters, I Am Not A Muse, Snowman.

What Have We Become is available in different formats at


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 8,023
We need:£ 9,977
12 Days remaining
Donate today