Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Home Again’

Snipe all you want, but here lies warmth and wisdom

Burdened as we are by worry about reunion overload, retromania and the commercial dominance of easy, mellow sounds, it’s no surprise that this poor young/old London soul has found himself the chew-toy of critical fretting. Is the BBC Sound Of 2012 winner really the sound of 2012, or the sound of 1970, or the sound of a stillborn future? Of course, none of this matters, if he’s the sound of himself.

On this relentlessly accomplished debut, [a]Michael Kiwanuka[/a] certainly proves he’s more than just another new-soul crooner; the softly rolling, thoughtful likes of ‘I’m Getting Ready’ owe more to the sexy, intense, jazzy folk-soul of Tim Buckley or Terry Callier than any attempt to be a modern-day Marvin Gaye, or an Adele with smaller hair and more grandad knits. The vintage, flute-flourishing, sepia tones of ‘I’ll Get Along’, the intentionally antique ‘yeah, dug this up from a crate in a tiny record shop in Newport’ production of ‘Tell Me A Tale’ should ring false, but ahhh… they beg you irresistibly for a hum-along, a happiness; fuck it, maybe a spontaneous picnic. Sometimes, as on ‘Rest’ or the over-smooth ‘I Won’t Lie’,
with its impressively reverberating cymbals, Kiwanuka sounds more like a man crafting a style than someone really saying something, but at other moments, as on the fingerpicked and fret-worn title track and the brush-drummed, doo-wop romance of ‘Bones’, feeling flows through and animates creaky stylisations into warm life.

Patchy, perhaps. Polished, perhaps. But there’s talent here in buckets, if not the most stylish model of pail. It’s hardly his fault that something so lovely isn’t the most fitting soundtrack to babies dying of shrapnel wounds in Homs; there’ve always been wars, and there has always been music, and there’s an audible wisdom in Kiwanuka’s melancholy musings that suggests he’s aware of both facts. If intimations of darkness and under-bubblings of worry and pain are what you’re looking for, you may struggle to find them here, and Kiwanuka’s voice is perhaps too beautifully smooth to really grab or affect, but ‘Home Again’ provides a sumptuously soft place for tired ears to rest. Enough for many, for now, and a good start.

Emily Mackay

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