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I’ve already written in passing on these pages about how I wrote all of my first year university essays to Beautiful South’s third album, “0898”. The reason behind this was quite simple: it was one of the first albums I purchased on compact disc. Of course, it was a quieter album and I wrote most of my first years essays late at night. You see, I was living at home at the time and it was the only quiet time I had to myself in a very full house. I remember one night in particular when I had two essays due on the following day and I hadn’t started either one. I hopped myself up on Jolt Cola and set myself down with the intention to write both that night. I finished one and started the other, printing both in the early hours of the morning while sipping away at a Folgers instant. And the whole night long, “0898” was playing.
You might think that the way I experienced this album that year might have intrinsically led to me tying it up with bad memories. But not so. It is because of those long, arduous sessions that I know this album I intimately. I know every song, every note, every word. Whenever I listen to it, a smile is brought to my lips, many times throughout the listen, for different songs, for different reasons.
Is this Beautiful South’s best album? In my opinion, yes. I realize I am biased here. But I am willing to fight anyone who disagrees.
“Old Red eyes is back
Red from the night before the night before
Walked into the wrong bar walked into a door“
The album starts off with “Old red eyes is back”, a track that wasn’t particularly obvious as a single, but there it was nonetheless, the first single, poking at us with a sturdy red finger. It begins with Heaton singing passion, all alone against the heavy-handed playing of a grand piano, then, at the end of the first verse, the rest of the band joins in, drums and guitars and synthesized strings, back up vocals and all, making a statement, an exclamation mark, railing against the evils of alcoholism. I was new to alcohol at the time, only just experimenting here and there with beer and wine and rum. I’d had a good time with it but understood there were dangers there. And of course, I clung to the tragedy of it all.
“Old Red he died
And every single landlord in the district cried
An empty bottle of whiskey laying by his side
A lazy little tear running from each eye
They could never be blue“
The Beautiful South were a pop band but they were also a social conscience and that’s what I loved about them, especially at the beginning. Yes, there was that singular voice of Paul Heaton. But without the meaning that spoke to me, I may never have fallen for them.
I did, though, and this song is a big reason why. So, so good.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.