Album Review: Michael Kiwanuka – KIWANUKA

What a time Michael Kiwanuka is having. A few short years ago after the release of a couple of singles, a now ex-girlfriend accused me of “only going on about him because you can pronounce his second name’. Now, the Muswell Hill-born artist is releasing his third LP (his previous two were both nominated for the Mercury Prize), selling out tours and winning accolades (physical and critical) left, right and centre. I’m also doing fine, thanks.

As such, we can allow Michael a certain level of hubris and forgive him for boldly titling his third LP, ‘KIWANUKA’. We can also revel in the magnificent cover art, featuring a regally-clad Kiwanuka, a far cry from the thoughtful sepia of his first record.

So, what of this third album? Firstly, if it wasn’t clear from Love & Hate, it is fair to say Kiwanuka has learnt the craft of creating an album rather than a collection of singles. This album takes you on a journey. In fact, it feels like this album takes you to a party.

Opening tracks ‘You Ain’t The Problem’ and ‘Rolling’ easily establish the vibe; you’re arriving at the party a bit late. Things are in full swing, they are lively. But as it gets later, the conversation gets heavier, lines of friendship and understanding get blurred; big, important topics are hinted at behind the veneer of camaraderie.

As things go on and we finish exploring the world around us, we start to explore ourselves. Self-doubt creeps in. “Am I a hero?” Kiwanuka asks. “To die a hero is all that we know now.”

Like all good parties, things can drift on a little too long into the night – we’re all still here when we probably should have moved on. But then it is difficult to say our goodbyes; you find yourself always wanting to stay for one more drink, a bit more chat, one more song.

By the time the album reaches it’s denouement with the dawn chorus, the dreamy outro of ‘Light’, we emerge bleary eyed into the day – you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. Right now, though, we’re not ready for it to end. Right now, despite all the problems out there, we are rejoicing in the warmth of loved ones and good times. Right now, we are ready to do it all again. Kiwanuka’s having a great time, and we’re doing just fine as well, thanks.

James Beck


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