- 21 Nov 19
Indie-folk maestro delivers an impressive grower. Review: Irina Dzhambazova.
Whether or not you recall the name Michael Kiwanuka, chances are you have heard the opening song to the television show Big Little Lies. That tune, ‘Cold Little Heart’, was taken from the London singer’s 2016 sophomore album, Love & Hate. Given the acclaim afforded that record, this outing presents an interesting question: how does an artist withstand the pressure of severely heightened expectations?
On the partially eponymous Kiwanuka, the artist’s strategy is to challenge himself. On one level, the album might be perceived as an easy listen; it emerges through a winding, unhurried, dream-like haze. However, it is also home to a series of incidental skits and shape-shifting outros, which display a real desire for musical adventure. By the time we reach the heart-rending ‘Final Days’, the full extent of the album’s melancholy becomes apparent. Kiwanuka starts the tune by telling us he is “Lying on the ground, like a dying man/ No reality, fading memories.” He could have been a stronger man, we hear – but alas, in the final days, he’s “just going round and round.”
No longer does the singer conceal the existential crisis that dogged him during the two long years it took him to complete the record. ‘Final Days’ is a stunning high point. Elsewhere on the album, with a band of exquisite players in support, Kiwanuka successfully channels an assortment of late greats – Gil Scott-Heron, Bobby Womack and Otis Redding among them. The result is a thoughtful and highly rewarding album that could well be a grower.