ADRIAN THRILLS reviews Time by Simply RedMay 26, 2023
Holding back the years… Mick Hucknall shows he’s still got plenty left in the tank: ADRIAN THRILLS reviews Time by Simply Red
Simply Red: Time (Warner)
Verdict: Takes surprising turns
Arlo Parks: My Soft Machine (Transgressive)
Verdict: Keeps the engine running
Speaking about Simply Red’s Blue Eyed Soul album on its release in 2019, Mick Hucknall insisted it wasn’t ‘one of those dark, reflective records looking back on my life’.
It was an exercise in feelgood dance music designed to be played live. A big arena tour was booked for 2020… and promptly cancelled as Covid struck.
Returning to the studio four years later, the singer has moved on. New album Time isn’t particularly dark, but it is reflective.
And as the third major release since Hucknall resurrected Simply Red in 2015, following a five-year hiatus in which he focused on helping to raise his now teenage daughter Romy, it’s a significant shift from the funky jams of Blue Eyed Soul.
Returning to the studio four years later, the singer has moved on. New album Time isn’t particularly dark, but it is reflective
And as the third major release since Hucknall resurrected Simply Red in 2015, following a five-year hiatus in which he focused on helping to raise his now teenage daughter Romy, it’s a significant shift from the funky jams of Blue Eyed Soul
There have always been two strands to the Mancunian’s songwriting: one that seeks inspiration from the African-American rhythms of James Brown and Otis Redding, and another that takes its cue from the British melodic tradition of The Beatles, Rolling Stones and David Bowie — and it’s the latter that’s to the fore on Time.
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Mick Hucknall reflected on playboy lifestyle in the Eighties
Mick, 62, hasn’t abandoned R&B entirely. There’s a soulful feel to the sweet-talking Let Your Hair Down. The two-part Just Like You is driven by sax man Ian Kirkham and guitarist Kenji Suzuki. Both songs nod to 1991’s silky Stars, the UK’s best-selling album two years running and a record that cemented Hucknall’s status as one of the best singers of his generation.
On Time, however, the onus is on his tunes and lyrics. Locked down with his family — and with just an acoustic guitar to work with — he has come up with a set of thoughtful songs that see him leaning on vintage pop while indulging his wilder creative urges by branching out into jazz, 1960s psychedelia and Dylan-esque folk-rock. Better With You recalls his first meeting with his future wife, art dealer Gabriella.
The couple subsequently lost touch (‘You didn’t show, so then my heart was aching… you seemed lost for sure’) before marrying in 2010. There’s more unrequited love on the tuneful It Wouldn’t Be Me and a poignant elegy to a departed matriarch on Never Be Gone, a ballad backed by harp, guitar and synthesised strings.
It’s hard not to view the latter as a sequel to Holding Back The Years, the 1985 classic inspired by Mick’s mother walking out on the family when he was three.
The surprises come later. With Hucknall on harmonica, Too Long At The Fair is a gentle protest song (‘It seems democracy’s suffering a major shakedown’), and the energetic hoedown Slapbang is unlike anything else in the Simply Red canon.
Mick, 62, hasn’t abandoned R&B entirely. There’s a soulful feel to the sweet-talking Let Your Hair Down
The jazzy Butterflies, originally written for Cyndi Lauper, celebrates the reopening of the world after lockdown.
The album ends with a reprise of the band’s pandemic single, Earth In A Lonely Space, an epic carousel featuring psychedelic adornments and Sgt. Pepper-style brass. ‘Try to make it brighter,’ Hucknall begs, in a fitting finale. Time won’t heal all wounds, but it’s a heartfelt return from a singer with plenty left in the tank.
- Album out today
- Simply Red play Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, on June 5 (ticketmaster.co.uk)
Arlo Parks exceeded all expectations when her low-key debut album became an overnight hit two years ago. A musical journal about the singer’s West London adolescence, Collapsed In Sunbeams reached No.3 in the charts, scooped the 2021 Mercury Prize and earned its maker a BRIT Award as the UK’s best new act.
Planning a sequel must have been daunting, so it’s no surprise that Parks, 22, has refined the laid-back styles that made her first album so absorbing.
Named after a line in British director Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical movie about film school, My Soft Machine offers another warm embrace rather than a roller coaster ride.
Planning a sequel must have been daunting, so it’s no surprise that Parks, 22, has refined the laid-back styles that made her first album so absorbing
Named after a line in British director Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical movie about film school, My Soft Machine offers another warm embrace rather than a roller coaster ride
Despite talk of a rock and roll approach this time, dreamy ballads and twinkling beats dominate again. There’s an outbreak of squally, indie-rock guitars on Devotion and some beguiling Japanese keyboard chimes, inspired by a trip to the Far East, on Impurities. But Parks is otherwise faithful to the homespun pop-soul of her debut.
‘This record is life through my lens,’ she says. That might sound like she’s revisiting Robbie Williams’s first solo album (Life Thru A Lens), but all the same it’s an apt description.
On Blades, she hankers after an old classroom crush (‘I only want to be with you’), while I’m Sorry alludes to the mental health issues that led her to cancel American dates in 2022.
Its tunes are featherweight, but My Soft Machine’s best moments reiterate her talent.
Pegasus, a duet with effortlessly cool Californian singer Phoebe Bridgers, of Boygenius, is a happy by-product of her decision to move from London to LA. With guest stars of that calibre, the future looks bright.
- Album out today
- Arlo Parks starts a UK tour on September 8 at Manchester Academy (livenation.co.uk).
Still going strong almost 50 years on from their 1974 breakthrough hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us — and back with their original label, Island Records — Ron and Russell Mael serve up a typically varied brew on their 26th album.
Taylor Swift’s producer, Jack Antonoff, says that all pop music is essentially ‘re-arranged Sparks’, and The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte ticks a lot of boxes.
Pulsating electro-pop is the duo’s default setting, but they add classical strings to their bow on the orchestral It’s Sunny Today.
Pulsating electro-pop is the duo’s default setting, but they add classical strings to their bow on the orchestral It’s Sunny Today
Having once scored a hit with The Number One Song In Heaven, they also speculate on the nature of the pop charts in North Korea on We Go Dancing
With tongue-in-cheek lyrics abounding, the title track ponders the fate of a distressed woman in a cafe (‘Is it due to the rain, or is she in some pain?’), and there are similarly droll songs about house guests who outstay their welcome (When You Leave) and a newborn who wants to return to the womb (Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is).
Having once scored a hit with The Number One Song In Heaven, they also speculate on the nature of the pop charts in North Korea on We Go Dancing.
It’s an album that values an archly-raised eyebrow over songs with real emotional heft, but you can’t fault Sparks for their wit or invention.
- Sparks play the SEC Armadillo, Glasgow, tonight and the Royal Albert Hall, London, on Monday and Tuesday (May 29 and 30) (ticketmaster.co.uk).
BEETHOVEN: Variations Vol. 1
(Harmonia Mundi HMM 902433.34, two discs)
THE great French pianist Cedric Tiberghien is just the man to tackle Beethoven’s many sets of Variations for piano.
But he has injected a little variety into this first volume by including Mozart’s Sonata in A with the Turkish Rondo – its first movement is a magnificent series of variations.
Two other sets by Schumann and a typically gnomic one by Webern make absolute sense in Tiberghien’s hands, but of course his main aim is the exposition of Beethoven.
He begins with the Variations and Fugue in E flat, Op. 35, called the Eroica Variations by pianists because the theme is the same as that in the finale of the Third Symphony.
His performance compares well with classics by Curzon and Gilels but the revelations are the lesser sets, for example the two based on arias from Paisiello’s La Molinara.
Everything is played with the utmost virtuosity and sensitivity and I look forward to his getting to grips with the mighty Diabelli Variations. His Steinway is nicely recorded.
SIBELIUS: Orchestral Songs
(LAWO Classics LWC1239)
THOUGH he wrote most of them for voice and piano, Sibelius’s songs gain a great deal from orchestral accompaniment.
Norwegian mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland sets out her credentials with the very first track, pitching the high opening notes of Hostkvall with perfect aplomb.
Her programme includes such favourites as ‘Svarta rosor’, ‘Sav, sav, susa’ and perhaps the most popular, Diamond In The Snow, and Petr Popelka conducts with due care.
The players of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra make the most of the various scorings, six by Sibelius himself, five by his son-in-law Jussi Jalas and seven by other hands.
Our own Colin Matthews is responsible for one song and Kielland’s typically bronze Nordic tones are heard to advantage throughout – the last song is really dramatic.
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