“A Little Time” gives us the duet as short story. Dave Hemingway offers some sensitive-dude patter, Briana Corrigan busts it up and shows what’s really been going on. He’s smooth, she’s sharp; she’s sympathetic, he’s not; he’s dumped, she’s happy. It’s a nice idea for a song, but as realised here it’s all too easy, like a badly staged wrestling match where you can’t even cheer as the heel gets his since he was never much of a threat. All the life in the record comes from Corrigan, striding brassily into a self-involved song and giving it a kick-up the arse – even though her verses fizzle into tweeness every time. But Hemingway is a relative cypher. Her confidence rings true, his smarminess seems only there to prove a point.
What we have is more a sketch than a track – a bit of observational comedy, or a scene from a ‘bittersweet’ sitcom. Isn’t it funny how guys say they want a little time….? The music backs that up – discreet punchline flourishes between the lite-pop verses letting on we’re listening to something a bit wry. The problem is, pop song is always multi-layered – you’ve always got the arrangement and the lyrics and the vocal performance reinforcing or trading off against one another. So pop is full of unreliable narrators, conflicted dickheads, people who say one thing and mean another. And while undermining cliches is clever, it’s even more clever if you don’t have to point it out. You can imagine a Beautiful South version of “I’m Not In Love” with Briana Corrigan popping up between verses going “ACTUALLY YOU ARE IN LOVE REALLY!”.
But maybe it’s just that I always hated the Beautiful South. I was hardly alone in that: I can’t think of a band my friends and I despised more. Some of it was snobbery, to be sure: they were the pop choice of the Radio 2 listener, and their neat bundles of song felt inert and self-enclosed, drearily arranged music for bores. An apt sound for the Major Years, we thought, for all that Paul Heaton tried to mix some poison into the weak tea. Was I wrong? Well, I still can’t listen to “Perfect 10” or “Rotterdam” – and I don’t dare even try “36D”, so spiteful Corrigan quit the group – but with the cushion of hindsight I can see that “A Little Time” is one of their better songs, for all its unsatisfying neatness.