Tuesday 20 March 2012

Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

Listening to 'Home Again' is rather like eating a Werther's Original.  Like a hug and a sweet from your favourite Grandfather, it's warm and cosy but ultimately old-fashioned.

It's the debut album from BBC Sound of 2012 winner Michael Kiwanuka.  He was an interesting choice for the winner of the poll - on the one hand an accomplished musician, on the other hand an artist living in the past rather than heralding a novel future.  This conflict permeates the album as a whole.  And like previous Sound of winners' albums, 'Home Again' fails to live up to the hype.

Then again, this isn't a loud pop album that will make crashing waves in the charts (I'm looking at you Jessie J).  This is a soft, slow-burning and soothing record.  Kiwanuka's soul, gospel sound takes huge influence from the likes of Bill Withers and Otis Redding.  So authentic is his sound, 'Home Again' feels like an LP rediscovered from a 1960s time capsule.  Tell Me A Tale immediately sets the tone with its jangling guitars, softly rhythmic percussion and smooth orchestration peppered with jazz flute.  This continues with the catchy I'll Get Along complete with occasional sitar phrase to provide an extra, exotic colour.  The majority of the tracks focus predominantly on Kiwanuka's vocal and acoustic guitar playing.  The lilting and sombre Always Waiting is a particular highlight, whilst the title track (heard across the radio) borders on dull.  Throughout the album, Kiwanuka's vocal steers between silky smooth and pleasingly rough.  Paul Butler's production, meanwhile, retains a sense of sepia warmth in each track.

Kiwanuka's authenticity, though, is his downfall.  In 2012, he holds a unique place in the industry, his music seemingly fresh compared to the amount of electronic pop rubbish in circulation.  Yet his music would be more at home in decades gone by.  He adds little new or original to the soul genre, instead settling on pastiche of his musical heroes.  Once the initial attraction of 'Home Again' subsides, we're left with an album of slightly monotonous and mournful songs from yet another Sound of winner in danger of becoming a novelty.  We all like a Werther's Original from time to time to warm the throat, but a fizzy, sour Haribo leaves a far more exciting taste in the mouth.


Gizzle's choice:
* Tell Me A Tale
* I'll Get Along
* Always Waiting

Listen: 'Home Again' is available now.

Watch: Kiwanuka begins his European tour next month, returning to the UK in May.