Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Love & Hate’ Review

North London soul boy Michael Kiwanuka sings from the heart on his impressive second album.

In 2012, Michael Kiwanuka left [a]Frank Ocean[/a] and [a]Skrillex[/a] in his wake to win the BBC’s ‘Sound Of’ poll. But since then, the north Londoner has been somewhat less prominent than some of the poll’s other champs. While [a]Adele[/a], [a]Ellie Goulding[/a] and [a]Sam Smith[/a] have gone on to be bigger than the Brexit backlash, Kiwanuka has avoided becoming a household name. ‘Love & Hate’ could change all that. Four years since the pleasant Bill Withers-balladeering of his debut ‘Home Again’, Kiwanuka has brought in the production heft of Danger Mouse, as well as up-and-comer Inflo, to seriously up the ante. This is an album that’s not d**king around.

Opener ‘Cold Little Heart’ is a stonking 10 minutes long – a good five minutes of heroic ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ soloing, the angelic trilling of a butter-soft choir and a sweeping string section before Kiwanuka’s astonishingly self-possessed vocal strides into the mix. “Bleeding, I’m bleeding… I can’t stand myself,” he croons, as he picks through the tatters of a relationship.

It’s not just the soppy stuff that Kiwanuka confronts head on. On ‘Black Man In A White World’ he brings up questions surrounding racial identity – Kiwanuka is of Ugandan descent – over a funk-inflected Marvin Gaye throwdown. Spirituality is on the table too, with the dreamy ‘Father’s Child’ opening up about his relationship with religion over violins that bring to mind Minnie Riperton’s soul classic ‘Les Fleurs’. The iconic 1970 track is a cornerstone of the album, gracefully grounding a number of songs here, the warm shuffle of ‘Place I Belong’ included.

“The confessional aspect is cathartic for me,” explains Kiwanuka about his need to splurge his feelings in the studio. “A lot of this album was grappling with the insecurities that I’d learned. The first album was grappling with faith. Here, I’m not so worried about that – I’ve accepted that it comes and goes, and now I’m left with myself.” We’ll take it.