The warm, mellifluous voice of Paul Heaton often masks the jagged satirical content of his lyrics. From pointed political jabs like "The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death" to darkly comical love stories such as "Something That You Said," Heaton's work with the Housemartins and the Beautiful South has had countless listeners obliviously humming along to his biting wit. In the '80s, Heaton was the leader of the Housemartins. Like the Smiths, the Housemartins were college radio all-stars in the U.S.; although the group's jangly riffs and brainy, humorous songs couldn't draw mainstream acceptance in America, the band shared a portion of the Smiths' sizable cult of devotees. In 1986, the video for the Housemartins' "Happy Hour" was selected as a Hip Clip of the Week on MTV; the rollicking single is still a favorite of '80s flashback shows on modern rock stations.
After the Housemartins disbanded in the late '80s, Heaton then fronted the Beautiful South, a group that mirrored the Housemartins' no-frills approach. Nevertheless, the Beautiful South expanded Heaton's musical canvas, exploring jazz and even country influences. While many critics and student-run radio stations in the U.S. continued to laud Heaton's talent, the Beautiful South became far more successful in England, where they charted several number one albums. The group called it quits in 2007, having sold more than 15 million records worldwide, and Heaton shifted his focus to his growing solo career. While Fat Chance technically marked his solo debut in 2001 (albeit under the name Biscuit Boy aka Crackerman), 2008's The Cross Eyed Gambler was billed as a genuine Heaton release. Two years later, Heaton returned with Acid Country, which he helped to promote with a bicycle-led U.K. pub tour. The year 2012 saw the release of Presents the 8th, a stage play that boasted a single conceptual song told in eight chapters, dealing with the seven deadly sins, and featuring guest vocalists. In 2014 he released What Have We Become?, a collaborative album recorded with the other singer from the Beautiful South, Jacqui Abbott. After the warm of that effort, which catapulted to number three on the U.K. albums chart -- Heaton's highest-charting album since his Beautiful South days -- the duo regrouped for 2015's Wisdom, Laughter and Lines. ~ Michael Sutton