Audacious and direct, Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate is a powerful, stunning second album. An eerily close reflection of today’s societal sentiment, the album is filled with discontent, despair, unapologetic honesty and frustration. The sound is funkier, more soulful than debut Home Again; produced by Brian ‘Dangermouse’ the record is big; epic in fact, yet Kiwanuka succeeds in maintaining the rugged and raw quality that makes his music as special as it is.
Cold Little Heart is an opening track that demands a celebration all of its own. A ten minute masterpiece where the audience is invited to indulge in a psychedelic-rock inspired introduction for five minutes, before even hearing the familiar, blissful tones of Kiwanuka’s voice, enriched by a choral background. The track is grand and impressive, and is sure to stir first time listeners for years to come.
Black Man In A White World is an upbeat, gospel inspired track with a pretty bleak message. The lyrics explore the tedious and laborious nature of racial discrimination, the artist explains, “I’ve been told all my life, I‘ve got nothing left to pray, I’ve got nothing left to say”. The mind boggles at the fact that racial intolerance is even still an issue, nevermind a rapidly increasing one. The track is current and muscially, easy on the ear, Kiwanuka tells his listeners, “I’m not angry, I’m not mad… I’m a Black Man In A White World”.
Funk-rock and soul are consistent themes throughout the record; One More Night is a groovy track (yes groovy, the retro-hip nature of the whole album makes that word acceptable and relevant I’m sure); while Father’s Child sees Michael soul searching, questioning his own identity and spirituality – all to a pretty driving soundtrack.
The closing piece on the record, The Final Frame focuses on a break up. The music is funky, almost sensual – the lyrics are good – but as with much of the album they come second to the splendid musicality of the song.
Kiwanuka’s talent is strong and raw. His quietly slow success has left him humble, and his music pure. The fact that Dangermouse produced the album has caused for an array of reviews of Love & Hate, with some accusing the record of being overly commercial, lacking substance and making up for it in style. Really though, there is an overwhelming source of rugged flair that shines through the record. Love & Hate is more than a vintage-soul album. It is unique and notable, and if ever there were a time for a political record to fall on deaf ears, now is not it.