housemartinsTwo years ago, The Guardian ran a blog citing Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine as the most successful, yet least influential band in recent memory – a fair point, well made. That said, The Housemartins’ two-album career was arguably just as successful, with two top ten albums and a glut of increasingly chartbound singles, with just as little influence; aside from spawning the underappreciated Beautiful South (whose early albums are, if anything, even more deserving of a reappraisal) and the overexposed Norman Cook, they’ve hardly spawned a legion of imitators – now that Jack Peñate’s “gone Afrobeat”, anyway. With no specific anniversary in sight, this “deluxe edition” of 1986’s London 0 Hull 4, the first and most successful of their albums, seems like a randomly deployed attempt to address this issue, boasting a shiny remastering job and the obligatory second disc of bonus tracks.The original album itself remains a pretty comprehensive guide to everything right and wrong with Thatcher-era indie. Though the crystal clear remaster makes it an essential repurchase for anyone who already owns the almost-unlistenable earlier CD version, the production remains as reassuringly leaden as anything released on an independent label in the ‘80s. Likewise, the songs’ influences are similarly limited, veering almost exclusively between northern soul and The Smiths. This combination occasionally strikes gold, as on ‘Get Up Off Our Knees’, the album’s most dynamic moment and, classic single ‘Happy Hour’ aside, its bona fide floor-filler, as well as the riotous ‘We’re Not Deep’, which wins points for its gloriously tongue-in-cheek “ba-ba-ba” chorus, and its audacious placement before one of the album’s deepest soul cuts, ‘Lean on Me’. Sadly, it’s hard to listen to much of the album without involuntarily breaking into ‘I Want the One I Can’t Have’, especially ‘Reverend’s Revenge’ which as a throwaway instrumental all but invites the comparison, and ‘Sitting on a Fence’, which is at least saved by Paul Heaton’s keening falsetto and still painfully relevant lyrics (“He’d rather not get his hands dirty/He’ll still be there when he is thirty...”).Indeed, Heaton’s socially-aware lyrics have dated remarkably well, at least compared to those of labelmate Billy Bragg, and this is perhaps thanks to the broadness of their messages. The band’s crowning glory is ‘Flag Day’, which criticises “too many hands in too many pockets [and] not enough hands on hearts,” while condemning the self-righteousness of those who’d “like to change the world [by] deciding to stage a jumble sale...for the poor.” The mix of withering bitterness and resignation in Heaton’s voice as he intones the last three words is almost palpable. The single version which opens disc two makes this even clearer, as a solitary trumpet chimes in with a mournful refrain; compared with the album version’s overdramatic production flourishes which just ring false given the lyrical content (pseudo-Jools Holland piano? Check. Ill-advised melodica interlude? Check...), this stripped-back rendition is arguably its definitive version.Sadly, it’s also the best thing on disc two, which otherwise relies on b-sides, covers and BBC session tracks which are almost indistinguishable from the originals. The band’s charming acapella take on Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’ anticipates their number one hit ‘Caravan of Love’, and tracks like ‘I Smell Winter’ and the vitriolic ‘Drop Down Dead’ would have been right at home on the album proper, but studio antics like the painfully long ‘Rap Around the Clock’ are simply a joke too far, and strictly for obsessives. Still, for all its flaws, the album proper sounds better than ever and if a new generation of bands starts making a career out of ripping off ‘Happy Hour’ (unlikely though that scenario may be), there won’t be any complaints from this corner.70%The Housemartins Official Site