January 9, 2012
Review: Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Home Again’ EP
Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again EP
Polite laughter; the clink of a wine glass. You’re at a dinner party. Hugh Fearnley & Whittingstall’s latest evangelical series about vegetarianism has meant that you’re currently trying to work out how best to approach your polenta soufflé. More wine will help. The conversation has turned to Clarkson’s latest claim that the whole of East Anglia is sinking due to immigration levels, and you start to tune into the gentle strumming that’s been sonically wallpapering the evening. If it’s 2012, chances are that it’s Michael Kiwanuka – mainly because the London singer-songwriter has just topped the BBC’s ‘Sound of Dinner Parties and Adverts for Emotional Dramas 2012’ poll, an annual industry pat-on-the-back whose alumni include Corinne Bailey Rae, Keane and Ellie Goulding.
Kiwanuka was a safe choice for the Beeb, as his is an inoffensive sound that could easily be sold to the gazillions that bought former winner Adele’s ‘21’ last year (runner up Frank Ocean’s Odd Future connections and third-placed Azealia Banks’ odes to cunnilingus were perhaps a little too risqué for the corporation).
But cattiness and cheap shots aside, Kiwanuka isn’t entirely undeserving of the praise. Creeping on to the radar last year with ‘Tell Me a Tale’ – a track with all the compelling urgency of Terry Callier at his melancholic best – the Londoner looked to have set his stall out in esoteric psyche-folk, with the help of live-and-loose production work from Paul Butler of The Bees. However, the accompanying EP and its follow up ‘I’m Getting Ready’ headed directly for the middle of the road, where Kiwanuka appears to have remained a traffic hazard ever since.
Unfortunately, ‘Home Again’ doesn’t look to be the EP to change that state of affairs. The centrepiece title track is a more-than-pleasant Ben Harper rewrite complete with tapping foot and a soothing, yearning melody. That Kiwanuka leaves himself so open to comparison in both style and performance to a (fairly narrow) range of artists – from the aforementioned Harper to the wet blanket tones of James Morrison and Paulo Nutini – yet still has enough about him to catch the ear adds further frustration to the apparent direction he seems intent on taking his talent.
‘They Say I’m Doing Just Fine’ melodically intones Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ over a lifeless arrangement, while ‘Now I’m Seeing’ is disappointingly forgettable. That there is nothing here as urgent and compelling as ‘Tell Me a Tale’ is disappointing, but Kiwanuka is certainly worth keeping half an eye on over the following months.
Back at the dinner party, and someone has put David Gray on. It’s time to make excuses and stumble to the bus stop.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON