Review: Simply Red – Blue Eyed Soul
From the moment Simply Red’s 12th album opens, with staccato horns blaring and “Baby” hollered as if by an overexcited James Brown, it’s clear Mick Hucknall’s not messing around with its title. “Bam!” Thinking Of You announces, and, from that point on, he dives deep into the kind of vintage soul that first inspired him. Adopting admittedly well-worn templates, as the stomping blues-funk of BadBootz confirms, his voice is on tremendous, if sometimes throaty form, growling the lower notes and rocketing towards the high ones.
He is, however, at his best on more restrained numbers, including Sweet Child, whose subtle strings and guitar flourishes are consequently more affecting, and Complete Love, whose unabashedly sentimental ode to “sweet love” plonks itself in Otis Redding territory, then refuses to budge. Love – or lust – are, however, still not enough to excuse a few lyrical clunkers. When, on Ring That Bell, he exhorts us to “play the ding dong hard/ Play your ding dong smart”, it’s hard not to laugh. Perhaps that’s why he spends the last moments of this call-and-response crowd-pleaser seemingly clearing his throat. Bell-ringing can be messy.
That said, such songs demand not just simple directives but sometimes also simple innuendo, and when the heart is singing, perhaps words don’t matter. Take A Good Look’s vague questions – “Are you happy with what you see?/ Have you become all that you wanted to be?” – are lost amid its functional soul, and though Riding On A Train places him “grooving in the rain” it’s slinky enough to work up a head of steam. He may threaten to “love you/ Like I never have loved you before” – though only for Tonight, apparently – but he’s unsparing with syrupy strings, his demand that his partner “marry me now” provoking a muttered, sultry “I do”. His pillow talk is clearly persuasive.