Album Review: Michael Kiwanuka – “Love & Hate”
July 21, 2016
Every so often we are ordained with an artist who can take us on a voyage of sonic expanses while embodying something intimate yet so universal at the same time.
It’s been four years since his 2012 Home Again, and just as the world is entering a phase of unsettling moments, Michael Kiwanuka sweeps in with his soulful and mind-expanding release, Love & Hate, which solidifies any and all opinions of how talented the UK singer-songwriter truly is.
Since his debut, Kiwanuka has experimented with his sound; where in Home Again he introduced himself with his raw soulful voice that reminded us all of legends such as Bill Withers, Otis Redding, and Curtis Mayfield and in Love & Hate, with the help of Danger Mouse production adding lush and sonic elements, his sound can be compared to Pink Floyd-esque 1970s psychedelia with hints of gospel.
Running for nearly 10 minutes long, the album opens with “Cold Little Heart,” a prologue of vibrating strings and a hymning chorus, transporting the audience to a 60s and 70s English guitar bands concert. It’s not till 5 minutes in that we are enticed with Kiwanuka’s aching lyrics “Maybe this time I can go far / But thinking about where I’ve been / Ain’t helping me start.”
Followed by the lead single, “Black Man in a White World,” which is a clear political anthem for these perplexed times; it’s evident that Kiwanuka wasn’t trying to be subtle and in this day and age, he shouldn’t have to be. His self-expression reaps throughout with lyrics such as “I’ve found peace but I’m not glad / All my nights and all my days / I’ve been trying the wrong way.” It’s an upbeat soaring gospel accompanied by strong handclaps and funky guitar riffs. Its lyrics combined show signs of hope and despair, and can be compared to monument pieces like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
The title track, which sits comfortably in the 70s retro sound with lyrics “Love and hate / how much more are we supposed to tolerate?” Kiwanuka’s raw and soulful voice undulates and intertwines throughout live instrumentation, paired with pain-stricken lyrics and emotional guitar riffs that are clearly influenced by Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain.
He spikes up the mood with “One More Night” where we get a sense of The Black Keys influence with vibrant horns and bright organs. The tone quickly shifts back to a melancholic mood with tracks like “I’ll Never Love” and “Place I Belong” whose anthems are about the uncertainties in life we all share.
2016 has brought in some unpleasant news: geographically, politically, and culturally. But any moment I play Love & Hate, optimism and hope seem to run through my veins and into my heart. In between all the elegant instrumentation, guitar riffs, and cries, we can hear something so honest and daring being sung: a man who takes on a musical approach to bring the dismal news that times have yet to change. Michael Kiwanuka shows he has the power of creating significant and intriguing arrangements that can easily put him in the realms of some of the greatest voices of soul.