Image courtesy of iTunes
Michael Kiwanuka returns this year with the much awaited (by me, anyway) Love and Hate. After four years of apparent heartbreak and a self-reflective existential crisis, the 29-year-old is back, having painfully injected even more soul into his music while exploring a number of personal and social issues that cause even my little middle-class-white-girl heart to ache.
The record opens with frosty strings and echoing choir chords in the 10-minute epic ‘Cold Little Heart’. After a euphoric four minutes of tension building, the rhythm section kicks in almost with relief, and the electric guitar cuts through the fog with its shrieking melody, reminding fans of the beauty of the first album. Kiwanuka’s vocals sound authentically pained and melancholy, as he bleats: ‘I’m bleeding, my cold little heart.’
The album continues, with a reasonable proportion of anguished ballads and punchy blues numbers. ‘Black Man in a White World’ is as bluesy as it gets, with casually strummed acoustic guitar, praise-like-clapping and a simple repeated bass line. The subject is just as bluesy, reminding the modern listener how important the soul revival still is- ‘I feel like I’ve been here before/ I feel that knocking at my door.’ The funk influences (‘Place I Belong’) draw out even more sophisticated cool, and the transition from horns (which were plastered all over the first album) into the dominating strings that ring out on this record, seems like a suitable step up into more grown-up themes.
The debut, Home Again, won the Critics’ Choice Award upon its release in 2012, but Love and Hate takes a place of its own amongst the voices of Otis Reading and Marvin Gaye, to name-drop just a couple of dominions of this realm. Kiwanuka has taken it into a new level, and it’s a height at which I hope he stays.