Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
THERE’S an old saying that goes something like ‘they don’t make them like they used to’ that can be equally applied to movies and music. Well, in the case of the latter category, a whole lot of modern artists have been achieving phenomenal success by reverting to the classic sound of yesteryear.
Most recently, of course, there’s Adele and Amy Winehouse, both of whom used a certain retro template to embellish strong vocals and song-writing, while Oasis often harked back to the style of The Beatles.
Michael Kiwanuka is the latest to mine a classic sound and the results look set for similar success. Having already won this year’s BBC Sound Of poll off the strength of singles such as Tell Me A Tale and title track Born Again, he seemed primed to capitalise on the expectation being placed upon him.
Now that debut album Home Again has arrived, it’s hardly surprising to report that Kiwanuka delivers on that potential in effortlessly pleasing fashion.
The singer himself describes his sound as folk-inflicted modern soul, while the vibe is reminiscent of all the classics (from Ben E King to Bill Withers via Joni Mitchell) that description elicits.
And while some of Kiwanuka’s lyrics seem unnecessarily fretful or even spiritual, his delivery is designed to make you feel good while listening, while reminiscing on those classic tracks you thought they didn’t write anymore.
The album opens on a familiar note with Tell Me A Tale, still a wonderful song in the way that it opens amid a flitter-flutter of flutes and acoustics, before hitting you with that devastatingly rich vocal. It’s enchanting and steeped in classic values, right down to the dramatic use of brass, which only adds to the richness of the overall sound. This is intelligent soul rather than the more brash pop version employed by Winehouse and Mark Ronson.
Thereafter, the newer material begins to hit with I’m Getting Ready maintaining the goodwill with its gentle folk and unassuming spirituality (complete with gospel backed outro), and I’ll Get Along combining Jack Johnson-style campfire acoustics with more flutes.
Rest, meanwhile, blows you away with its quietly romantic sentiments, subtle guitar and casual strings. It’s a heart-melter of a track that bears comparison with both Johnson and Van Morrison at times, while the strings interlude adds a cinematic quality that’s incredibly bittersweet.
Home Again is another delight, set against a distinct guitar rhythm and toe-tapped back-beat, while Bones drops an almost jazz vibe into the folk mix and again displays an ear for the cinematic. It’s another highlight.
Admittedly, after such a strong run to this point, the album begins to run out of steam a little bit, while Kiwanuka’s spiritual leanings threatening to become repetitive.
Always Waiting (with fears of ‘my time is coming’ and ‘my soul is dying’) and Worry Walk Beside Me, which mixes a bluesy acoustic with its lyrical anxiety, threaten to end things on a somewhat downbeat note when a track to rival the assured breeziness of Tell Me A Tale would have been a better parting shot.
But even amid these songs, there’s a distinct style and a beauty to songs like I Won’t Lie and Any Day Will Do Fine that continues to mark Kiwanuka out as a rich new talent, whose style is easily accessible and in keeping with the best.
Hence, while Home Again doesn’t quite reach maximum marks, it is a spellbinding debut that will still surely rate among the year’s best albums.
Download picks: Tell Me A Tale, Rest, Home Again, Bones, I’m Getting Ready