8 August 2016

Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

It's that magical item of year again: The Mercury Music Awards. Faceless music executives* pick a selection of albums to be pitted against each other for best album of the year. They carefully select from a range of (socially acceptable) musical genres and chuck in a handful of the years best sellers for good measure. It is almost always a selection of albums that I furiously disagree with.
 For reasons unknown Eddie has decided that, each year, we will review all of the nominees despite the fact we're all grumpy old metalheads. Maybe it's some musical horizon expanding thing, I dunno. If I wanted that I'd listen to some Frank Zappa.

*Reading more into it, this in incorrect and they're shortlisted by "an independant panel of musicians, music presenters, music producers, music journalists, festival organisers and other figures in the music industry in the UK and Ireland"  so that's me told. 

Anyway the first of the albums I have been issued for review is by someone I've actually heard of for a change, I've seen him on the telly and everything! I feel pleased with myself. I think at the moment, this album is number one in the UK album charts so maybe I should be feeling a bit less smug about my musical knowledge,
Whilst I've heard of Michael Kiwanuka I'm less familiar with the actual music and, to be honest, I was expecting forgettable Indie Folk (a lá Ed Sheeren) with maybe a bit of a World Music influence added in as well. It turns out I was jumping to easy conclusions and probably being a bit racist too because Love & Hate isn't like that at all.

The opening track, Cold Little Heart, is a shade under ten minutes long. It opens with subtle strings and the occasional stroke of a piano key. Looped ah-ah's usher in the band and the strings pick up. Some atmospheric lead guitar adds to the feeling that this is some 70's Prog I'm listening to. It also appears to be an instrumental right up until about five minutes or so when it changes tack, It still has a 70's feel but more of a Soul/Motown thing. It's a song of self loathing but gentle and feel good to listen to, If you can ignore the depressingly lyrics. It's a good, thoughtful song that's intricate and well structured. It gives me hope for the rest of the album.

Black Man In A White World is fairly self explanatory in theme and is driven along with handclaps and the title repeated like a mantra. It's incredibly catchy and gets stuck in your head immediately. Following that is Falling, which is much more introspective song. It's about getting dumped, getting over the heartbreak and sorting your head out only for the dumper to say they think they've made a mistake. I can identify with the first part at least...
Next up is Place I Belong that has a laid back, Marvin Gaye vibe to it. It's a pleasant enough song but doesn't stand out much amid better songs.
The title track is the song that seems to get played on telly. It's built around some casual ba ba didap ba's and a string section that ebbs and flows. It's about being positive in the face of negativity and has a timelessness to it. It sounds old but in a good way.

One More Night is the current single from Love & Hate and, again, has a very retro feel to it. It's not bad, quite uptempo and some nice horns.but it's also repetitive and doesn't really go anywhere. It's a nice sound not a song unfortunately. I'll Never Love is a loner's ballad, a song about being alone by choice. It's a stark, simplistic song but moving and atmospheric, definitely one of the highlights of the album. 
Rule The World sadly isn't a Take That cover but a lively soul track about bettering yourself without asking for help but accepting it when it's offered. It has the biggest chorus on the album and is an engaging song, Father's Child reminds me of early Lenny Kravitz,, Let Love Rule era. It's a trippy, distorted, Soul song that's pretty long at seven minutes. The last minute or so are an affecting looped piano line that works well. IT's an interesting listen. The final song is, fittingly, The Final Frame. It's a strange Blues/Soul hybrid that works well. The verses have a sharp Bluesiness whereas the chorus is pure Soul. It's a strong song to end the album with,.

So yeah, this album wasn't what I was expecting and was a pleasant surprise. I didn't think it would be bad as such but just nothing special. Love & Hate starts strongly, dips in the middle and then picks it right back up at the end with four excellent songs. This is Michael's second album and also his second nomination for a Mercury prize. Hopefully this year he'll be more successful, although I would imagine David Bowie and his sympathy votes will be a shoe-in this year.

7 out of 10 - This is good and well worth a check

Best track: I'll Never Love
You can listen to Love & Hate on Spotify HERE 
You can purchase the CD on Amazon HERE

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