Today’s POP RESCUE from a potential loveless fate is the 1995 fifth album Life, by Simply Red.
I remember this album being released, as I worked in a record store at the time and it sold by the bucketload, and I’m no stranger to this album as we would often play it in store.
The album opens with You Make Me Believe, which is a bit of a wandering track, complete with some brass and record scratches. As opening tracks go, this feels a bit odd.
Second track So Many People has more life to it – brass, a nice beat, and a stronger bass line. Piano ushers in Mick Hucknall‘s vocals – this feels back on form, and not a million miles from previous album, 1991’s Stars. At 5:21, this track feels a little long.
Next up is Lives and Loves, reminds me of The Brand New Heavies if they were a bit more jazzy. The track wanders again, and I’d struggle to find anything catchy about this.
Then, it’s their big hit Fairground, and until writing this review, I didn’t realise that it was also their first UK number one. What’s evident from the sleeve notes, is that this track, with its high-tempo percussive beat, lifted from Give It Up by The Goodmen, is that in essence, Simply Red sampled a sample, and give credit to the original source of that sample – Fandarra by Sergio Mendez. I remember this being performed at a BRITS show, and it was epic, mixed with Mick’s vocals and the house piano, and a stage full of drummers. This is the top of my (short) list of Simply Red favourites.
Third single Never Never Lover follows this, and this is a nice warm, chilled out track, complete with ‘la la la-la la’ vocal intro. Mick’s vocals suit the bass and beats on this track.
So Beautiful follows this, again, another mellow and relaxed number. This time, Mick takes his vocals low, and pitches it against a bassline. This is soon joined by finger clicks – and what’s nice about this song, is how simple it feels despite it’s slow build up, and it’s nice how each instrument seems to be given space to breathe.
An unmistakeable Jamaican sound comes along instantly in the intro of next track Hillside Avenue, and stays with it musically through the bass and beats, and also a distinct change in Mick’s vocal style. I’m not really a fan of this track, as it jars with the rest of the album style, but it is pretty inoffensive.
The second single is up next – Remembering The First Time. This is a more upbeat track, again with some piano and bassline carrying Mick’s vocals along. When you watch the video for the single, you can see that its had a remix – I’d guess that after the success of Fairground, this song was remixed to keep the pace high. I quite like this song, despite the lyrics that give an insight into Mick’s sex life (which i’d rather not think about).
Penultimate track Out On The Range follows, with a great bassline over a nice clean funky beat. It takes about a minute of intro before the vocals kick in. Mick has a wide vocal range to cover here, and he covers it well. The track builds up, eventually bringing in a small choir.
The album closes with what became the Euro ’96 theme – We’re In This Together, which builds up and up with brass, choir, and motivational lyrics. It aims for epic, and earns its goal. The video includes lots of football players, football crowds, and football-playing kids. The sleevenotes reveal that the Umoja Singers Chorale and The London Metropolitan Orchestra were part of this album, and i’d take a guess that this is the track where they featured.
The sleeve is a lovely piece of design, and also mentions the contributions of legendary funky bassist Bootsy Collins, and producer Sly Dunbar. It fails to say on which tracks, but at least they all get the credit they’re due.
It’s an okay album, all the singles bar the Euro ’96 one are catchy and memorable, but the rest of the album feels a bit wandering, almost jazz inspired, and therefore more of a collection rather than one harmonious piece.
Where are Simply Red now?
After this album, keyboard player and backing vocalist Fritz McIntyre departed the band, and a Greatest Hits was released the following year in 1996.
Simply Red (now not more than a brand for Mick Hucknall) released their tenth and final album in 2010, and followed this with a farewell tour. The band, as a name, was retired. However, in early November 2014, it was announced that the reunited band would embark on a 30th anniversary tour.
Mick Hucknall has continued to perform and release solo material, but the success found from Life and its predecessor Stars has yet to be replicated.
POP RESCUE RATING
- POP RESCUE 2014 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1995 UK CHART POSITION: #1, certified 5x Platinum
- POP RESCUE COST: £2.99 from a British Heart Foundation store.