Michael Kiwanuka -‘Home Again’ (Polydor)
There has been no shortage of singer-songwriters over the last fifty years. Whilst a fair chunk of the indie scene currently suffers from being stodge by numbers and from being as far from innovative as it is possible to be, so the singer-songwriter scene suffers from a glut of perfectly pleasant but ultimately offensive from its very inoffensiveness sort of singers of both sexes. So it’s imperative that when yet another singer-songwriter is foisted upon us, much as I hate to use the phrase ‘unique Selling Point’ (USP) that they, um, do indeed have a USP.
See, my first thought on Michael Kiwanuka was that he sounded above average, but I wasn’t knocked out. There was a nice soulful tinge to it, certainly more than the faux-folk that so oftens passes around these days. The title track was a top thirty hit at the start of the year, and there was something nagging about it; that even if you tried to brush it off, it still hung around, gently persuasive.
And then I went to see him live, and he blew me away. See, he isn’t the first guy to listen to the classic soul from the first part of the seventies, but he understands what made it great, rather than the godawful Jamiroquai take on it. Probably the artist he most reminds me of is Bill Withers, but there’s a nod to the likes of the classic soul peddled by the likes of Messrs. Wonder, Gaye, and Mayfield amongst others.
Album opener ‘Tell Me A Tale’ isn’t just soul by numbers, there’s hints of jazz there too. And live, the magic comes together to make the Michael Kiwanuka Show something spectacular to behold. It’s not necessarily all translated to his debut album, but there is something here that makes this album a quiet joy. And the potential is being dveloped, by him, not a bunch of faceless record company men (and they are almost always men) in suits.
Beware of taking it out of context: one friend dismissed him as ‘beige’ – i.e. music that is middle of the road. He’s not – though it’s not an album that pushed the envelope in a way that some of his heores did on, on records like Curtis, What’s Going On or Songs In The Key Of Life. It isn’t an album as amazing as those – but then, none of those albums were their creators’ first albums, either.
The fact is: Michael Kiwanuka isn’t about a USP. He’s quietly producing music that genuinely is effective, getting into his stride, and astute enough to know that winning the Sound of 2012 may come with baggage. And I believe that he will build upon this album.
Home Again is out now on Polydor