01 November 2019 (released)
12 October 2020
Michael Kiwanuka released his eponymously titled third album in 2019 and last month he deservedly scooped up the 2020 Mercury Music Prize, how fitting in a year we saw the Black Lives Matter movement gain prominence, triggered by George Floyd’s brutal death, and a timely intro to Black History Month in the UK. “Token-ism” you might be thinking? Au-contraire.
This achievement is wholeheartedly deserved, not to mention the competition he batted away in the shape of : Dua Lipa, Stormzy, Moses Boyd and Laura Marling et al.
It may be difficult to get your head round how an artist’s music, which is after all subjective, can be rated against one another but a few listens to Kiwanuka and it’s impossible to argue with the talent of the songsmith from Muswell Hill and the production of sound by his regular compadre Danger Mouse.
For me, the cleverness about this record is its ability to make you feel you have shifted time. Rolling has a Psychedelic flower-power feel. Lavish in parts then delightfully sparse in the verses with a Hendrix-ish whining guitar riff before it transitions into I’ve Been Dazed : a slower, textured cadence of sound crafted with each voice and instrument layered to build an orchestra of sound. A kind of Hey Jude for modern times.
There are two to three binary tracks such as Piano Joint (This Kind of Love) part 1, which segways to the bass drum holding you in suspense before the slow melancholic piano riff cuts in. The narrative is artfully directed and Kiwanuka’s voice is soothing served generously over a heartfelt and deft arrangement.
Living in Denial has an infectious if slightly abrasive ‘la-la-la-la-la’ vocal riff with an Isley Brothers Summer Breeze-y feel. His palette has many colours and textures and this album is not a collection of fourteen songs, but at times a continuum of music passages which requires of you to ‘listen’ rather than absorb which explains why the Mercury award now sits on Kiwanuka’s mantelpiece.
Hard to Say Goodbye has a kind of Aquamarine-Fantasia feel juxtaposed against Final Days which starts with a muted and incantatory rhythm, swirling under currents of voices and natty Piano hook. There’s a slight sadness in his gravely whine which then shifts to clear as a bell in higher octaves. For a musician thirty-three years young, this is a remarkably mature body of work and feels like it will and deserves to stand up to scrutiny in five, ten or twenty years time. With accolades coming from the likes of Jools Holland and Paul Weller, Michael Kiwanuka is flying high. Highly Recommend.
Stuart Large is a Music Writer follow him on twitter @boyaboutsound www.noteworthybystuart.com