There’s two things I must mention: I’m catholic and I love musicals. When I got the press release for this album, I was interested: a musical about sins? Interesting. Religion has fuelled quite a few musicals before (top of my head: Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Whistle Down the Wind), so Paul Heaton tapped into this vein and created a very funky, religious infused musical called The 8th.
The 8th what, you might ask? The 8th Cardinal sin. You know the other 7. You saw the film with Brad Pitt! So begins this musical, with a slightly stark atmosphere and a lot of funk tunes, dialogue heavy cuts and the odd bit of rap, all segued in together with narration by Reg E. Cathey (from The Wire and American Psycho), who delivers his lines with a stern delivery. He easily relishes the part (‘Pharaoh’s Boot’ is ace) and is the glue that holds all parts together.
After the opening overture (‘The Southside’) sets the emotions just righ (dread, ominous violins, yup – I’m there), the first track we get is ‘Panther’, which deftly mixes trip hop with a funk soul chorus and soul revival breakdowns. ‘Sermon of a little faith’ goes a bit steampunk too, like an industrial version of a psalm. This is a musical more inclined towards the Rock Opera side of the spectrum than the usual Gershwin or Sondheim style of music and that’s a refreshing touch. No disrespect to any of The Greatest Creators (TM), but adding a touch of modern music makes the musical fresh and at the same time, a snapshot of the era we live in instead of a throwback to an era we don’t belong to and we will never fully understand.
As every musical, there are moments where the slow moments can make or break the flow. Said moment comes in ‘Strawberry-type birthmark’. It starts with a couple of violin swells in the back while Reg E. Cathey talks. The talk becomes an angry stream of consciousness that gets louder and louder in emotion and topics, tackling slavery, racism and history. The parable does not seem to have a happy ending, but it does carry a teaching. This is a recurring theme in the musical: social themes. No stone is left unturned and one wonders about the symbiotic relationship between human nature and sin.
So…what is the 8th Cardinal sin? Well, it’s gossip. The tune it got (‘Gossip’) has some dub moments and then some soulful rock moments. It’s a good combination (especially when the fuzzy funk guitar is called into action). Queue the grand finale, ‘Walking into the light’, both terribly depressing but at the same time, teeming with hope.
I’ve never heard any of the bands Paul Heaton was in before this, so I can’t compare his previous work with this, but whatever future endeavour he wants to tackle, he should know he’s got a knack to do a cracking musical. Just don’t give God any ideas, we don’t need more Commandments.
Words: Sam J. Valdes Lopez