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Album Re-Review: Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

With the Mercury Music Prize announcement we decided to take a dive back into the wonderful third album by Michael Kiwanuka with a track-by-track view.

1. You Ain’t The Problem. This is what album openers should be. They should grab you, let you know that you are in for an experience. Here Kiwanuka draws on soul, funk and afrobeat. Yes, it has a political message - if you don’t belong, you ain’t the problem. The intro to the track is exquisite, the humdrum of bongos and bass bursting into life after thirty seconds. Cracking stuff.

2. Rolling. A gorgeous tangle of sounds. Pulsing bass, that sharp guitar lead the way and are followed by lyrics such as 'no tears for the young, a bullet if you’re wrong'. Kiwanuka's intent is there for all to see, smacking you in the face. Black Lives Matter might only have come to popular attention this summer, but it’s been a reality for many for a lifetime before and this song is designed to remind us of that.

= Piano Joint (This Kind Of Love) Intro. The first of these intro tracks on the album. Genius. It’s a gorgeous jazz track, pulling in sounds and influences from across the spectrum and setting us up nicely for the track proper...

3. Piano Joint (This Kind Of Love). The piano leads us into the song, joined soon by Kiwanuka's vocals and the lightest of drum beats and, eventually, some strings. It’s a stunning vocal performance.

4. Another Human Being. Another beautiful short track containing samples of civil rights campaigners and a newsreader staring that ‘for the first time the community was confronted with negroes in places they have never been’. Pay attention everyone, the message Kiwanuka has for us is important.

5. Living In Denial. Like a gun shot, this track bursts into life, with the song continually changing tempo throughout. The guitar work is subtle but brilliant. This is the kind of track where producers Danger Mouse and Inflo have worked magic.

= Hero Intro. Yeah another intro track! Bloody love them. The acoustic guitar and vocals that first introduced us to Michael Kiwanuka back in 2012 return as he subtly takes us through the lyrics before, then after one minute twenty we are lifted into the song itself.

6. Hero. The electric guitar intro and that riff that rocked our radios last year introduce us before the drums and bass add a stunning groove to a song that focuses on the killing of Black Panther Fred Hampton in 1969. It sadly remains a song for our time. That guitar solo is so dirty it’s wonderful. It’s a mountain of noise that I haven’t got enough of since its release. Your reviewer's stand out track.

7. Hard To Say Goodbye. Another slow down of pace but the musicianship is wonderful. The guitar on this sounds incredible. The song holds back, tantalisingly pensive, the backing vocals add to the drama as we finally hear the strings and vocals reminiscent of a 60s sci-fi show, presented with Kiwanuka's wonderful voice. As we move into the third stage of the song those guitars return and the song once again builds, reaching a climax after six wonderful minutes of songwriting before dropping us back down to a horns fuelled cool-jazz, outro.

8. Final Days. The production on this is equally triumphant with some great sounds that drag us back towards the present from the 60s fuelled influences that litter the album, stopping off in a late-80s/early-90s dreamscape. Here we find ourselves laid down next to Kiwanuka, considering the world, its ills...and allegedly the onset of a nuclear apocalypse.

9. Interlude (Loving The People). A beauty of an instrumental, carrying us on a wave of jazz-fuelled keys, 'ooohs', slowed beats and samples. The lead guitar is sumptuous. This is stunning.

10. Solid Ground. Synths? Yes please. Kiwanuka has mastered the art of the stripped down intro, tugging us in by our heart strings and then, as tracks build and burst into life, hurtling us forwards - as he does here after two and a half minutes. Live this is one of those songs that you don’t move during, you just stand there, sucking it all in, letting the song take you.

11. Light. There is so much darkness in this record’s social commentary we are left with some positivity, with some hope for the future - even if we may not feel it either side of listening to this LP. The backing vocals are now a choir and the strings have grown in numbers and they lift us to the album’s close. It’s a beautiful ending as Michael declares ‘Be Free’. Please and thank you.

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