Four years on from his remarkable debut ‘Home Again’, the London-born, soul-inspired wunderkind meets the difficult second album with swagger
The much awaited and somewhat vaunted second album from London-born, soul-inspired wunderkind, Michael Kiwanuka. It’s been over four years since his remarkable debut Home Again was released. What has changed in that time and has any tampering proved fruitful?
The exquisite voice, finely crafted songs and infectious grooves remain (praise be) as does the collaborative presence of Paul Butler who contributed so heavily on Home Again. Heavier influences on Love & Hate though are the hot producers Danger Mouse and Inflo: not only helping behind the desk, but also performing and aiding in the composition. Whilst these different approaches hardly constitute a musical dichotomy, there’s certainly an interesting ripple running through the album twixt the seemingly organic work of Paul Butler and the super-crafted work of Brian Burton and Dean Josiah Cover.
There’s no shortage of swagger either. The difficult second album? We’ll open it with a 10-minute Floydian opus and the vocal won’t start until we’re five minutes in. But what a glorious start Cold Little Heart is. From the tremulous strings arranged by Rosie Danvers, grand piano and David Gilmour-laced electric guitar of it’s inception, to its casually seductive closure, it’s a captivating musical journey.
Michael Kiwanuka is most assured and probably more at home counterbalancing the positive with the melancholic on the slower numbers. There are plenty of fine examples here; Falling, Place I Belong and the ridiculously infectious title-track Love & Hate being merely three from the 10-track total. Some buck this trend; the hand-clapping, gospel-brushed single Black Man In A White World, the Gnarls Barkley vibe of One More Night (produced by Paul Butler and not Danger Mouse) and the tickety-tock groove of Father’s Child.
It seems churlish to mention any gripes when so much is right with this album, but I did find the ubiquitous and instantly forgettable fuzz guitar solos unhelpful and some of the drumming annoyingly intrusive.
Much has been made of Michael Kiwanuka’s songwriting and vocal influences and many favourable comparisons have been made (Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, etc) but he deserves to be regarded as a truly exceptional talent in his own right. Let’s hope that this album goes some way to rectifying the situation and I suspect that assiduous gigging with an established band only bodes well for album number three.
Verdict: Triumphantly trumping the promise laid down by his debut