There’s a point, a little over four minutes into the album’s opening track ‘Cold Little Heart’, when the luscious instrumental soundscape retreats and something other emerges. It serves as an excellent totem for ‘Love and Hate’ as a whole, its overall sound being to orchestral ‘70s soul what Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ was to incessant ‘60s Motown. It also neatly highlights this artist’s fairly significant transition, four years on from his warmly received debut. While ‘Home Again’ prompted comparisons with Bill Withers because of its expertly honed sound and smoothed edges, its follow up is much more direct and affecting. Having contemplated his faith on those early tracks, Kiwanuka here turns the spotlight on himself and digs around in his own insecurities, inspired by the unstinting honesty of the lyrics of Marvin Gaye.
Take first single ‘Black Man In A White World’ — which reflects on growing up as one of the very few black children in Muswell Hill and resisting the labels that came his way. An insistent beat and aching vocal unleash those emotions fully, finding the rhythm in the pain. ‘One More Night’ is similarly lively and possibly the most obvious indicator that Danger Mouse was involved in the album’s production. Emphatic horns gradually surround the thick, foregrounded drum sound to glorious effect.
However, it’s the more sombre pieces on ‘Love and Hate’ that really mark this out as a special record, a realisation of a talent that was nearly abandoned after the artist’s first brush with the music industry. By working with a producer who sought him out and by letting the songs lead the way, he has delivered a timeless album. ‘I’ll Never Love’ starts as a sparse, vintage soul ballad, Kiwanuka creakily asserting “I’ll never need somebody, leave me alone,” but a deluge of glistening synths at its halfway point elevate it somewhere rather special.
It feels a little unfair to single out one track for special attention in such consistently enchanting company, but ‘Falling’ is all the right ingredients in exactly the right order. Kiwanuka’s weathered vocals rasp about the disappointment of a partner he always knew would let him down while sustained organ notes intensify the regret and a reverb-brushed, wearied beat holds it all together. It seems entirely fitting when it embarks on a slow fade to its conclusion.
‘Rule The World’ gathers momentum, instrumentation and imploring backing vocals en route to a squally and euphoric finale that is enthrallingly, unashamedly grand. ‘The Final Frame’ will instantly appeal to fans of his very fine first album, hinging on a lulling melody and a crisp, clean guitar line. It’s yet another example of how majestically arranged and applied the strings are across these ten songs. The seven-minute title track is a masterclass in spinning musical plates, built around one small backing vocal that ebbs and flows. There are nods to the early ‘70s work of Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes in these arrangements, comparisons that these songs are bold enough to withstand.
Words: Gareth James
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