30 years in the music business (most of it in the commercial limelight) is infinitely longer than any new artist aspires for these days. This is an achievement that blue-eyed pop/soul outfit Simply Red has pulled off incredibly well. Last year, they announced a world tour to celebrate their 30th anniversary as a band. Fans were undoubtedly pleased and were excited to relive the special musical moments that Simply Red has crafted with their superior artistry over the years. What many did not know was that the band was secretly working on growing their legacy in advance of their tour in the form of a new studio album featuring newly written and recorded music. The album “Big Love” (slated for release on June 1, 2015) is the fruit of this endeavor. Fortunately, for fans, “Big Love” is truly is an essential expansion of the Simply Red legacy.
If “Big Love” were to be released on Vinyl with a slightly reordered tracklist, it would be very fitting since stylistically speaking, there absolutely is an A-side and a B-side for this album. The songs on its A-side are characterized by a smooth jazz vibe that successfully emulates the magic and sexiness that made Simply Red’s “The New Flame” a career masterpiece. In fact, it is safe to say that the album’s highlights are on its “A-side”. “Daydreaming” bears a striking resemblance to Al Jarreau‘s “Moonlighting theme” and serves as the perfect soundtrack to a Manhattan sunset. The album’s achingly beautiful title track “Big Love” just might be 2015’s official “slow dance track of the year”. The song’s horn solo accompanied by a beautiful string arrangement is bound to leave the listener longing for more. “Ghost of Love” is every bit the modern romantic classic. “Love Gave Me More” is reminiscent of the flavor of jazz that crossed over to the pop mainstream in the 80s due to the efforts of acts such as Basia, Sade, The Style Council, and Everything But The Girl. All of these songs are going to induce the desire for repeated plays.
The songs on the album’s “B-side” are characterized by a vibe that translates better to a live environment than it does to a studio album. Songs such as “Tight tones“, “Coming home“, and “Woru” would sound far better live in a smoky little pub or in another intimate live venue. The album’s lead single “Shine On” is a fairly indicative of what the stylistic “B-side” of ‘Big Love” sounds like.
The album’s cohesion stems from the musicians’ generous use of lush string arrangements, beautiful instrumentation, classic production, goose-bump inducing saxophone solos, and the warmth of lead singer Mick Hucknall‘s voice. Hucknall has clearly enjoyed a new wave of inspiration that is reflected via the top-notch songwriting on “Big Love“.
The album’s lyrical standout is Mick Hucknall’s beautiful ode to his late father Reg aptly titled “Dad“. Hucknall applauds his father for “years of devotion” after his mother Maureen left the two of them when Hucknall was three years old. The song’s wistful undertone is more obvious on lyrics such as “When I think of you, I wish I could phone you, I get sad, I can’t call you“.
While “Big Love” is a huge step up from the band’s 2007 album “Stay” (which at times felt like an easy-listening overdose) and is probably their finest album since “Stars” in terms of quality, it does have its share of imperfections. First, it does not have an obvious “pop radio” single of the likes of “Fairground“, “Sunrise“, “Money too tight to mention” or “Stars“. Fortunately, it compensates with a healthy amount of “jazz pop radio fodder” – especially with the title track “Big Love” and “Ghost of Love“. Second, over the last 30 years, Simply Red has demonstrated a staggering versatility boasting several stylistic incarnations ranging from blue-eyed soul (“If you don’t know me by now“), to funk and jazz-flavored pop (“How could I fall“, “Enough“), MOR easy-listening (“So not over you“, “Say you love me“) all the way to dance-worthy pop (“Sunrise“, “Fairground“). As the band’s “swan song” album, “Big Love” does not exactly showcase this career-defining diversity. Third, the album probably features more songs that fit on its stylistic “b-side” than they do on the heartwrenching “A-side” of “Big Love”. That being said, our comments about imperfection are more an indication of the fact that we hold Simply Red to a higher standard – one that they have lived up to quite well on “Big Love” – for which we heartily applaud them. Kudos to Mick Hucknall and gang for keeping the band’s progress on the album under wraps and sweetening their parting gift (i.e. their world tour) to fans with this surprise of an album.
STAR RATING: 4 out of 5 STARS
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