Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again

Followed in turn by someone who is surely the BBC Sound of 2012 listmakers’ idea of a palate cleanser…


Alex Ostroff: This just in: scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute have successfully spliced Jack Johnson’s DNA with that of a pet rock, thereby creating an artist even more bland and inoffensive, something previously thought to be impossible.

Katherine St Asaph: They’re farming new Adeles, they’re farming new Adeles! Lucre, authenticity, and pat orchestral swell. 

John Seroff: Michael Kiwanuka Has a Posse, a brigade of industry folks who have skin in the game to see his name flourish in 2012. And why not; he’s a safe bet.  The romanticism of his slightly open-voweled, African-accented voice and Starbucks-friendly guitar is in vogue.  His easy-listening, low-impact music is a snug fit for the same grandmas, moms and lil’ sisters who Adele proved would still buy records. Early, overly ebullient press bites the hook hard when presented with comparisons to R&B greats, but Kiwanuka is hardly the young Bill Withers they’d like you to believe he is.  His playing, voice and songwriting are all workaday at best, buoyed up by solid production and orchestral sweep.  No, the right comparison here is to a man who works his hardest to conjure soul from (a) rock.  He is, they hope, the second coming of Sting and that means he is one the thing that I can’t do much with: he is a bit boring.  A year or two on the road may give the young man some chops, some depth and some experiences that give him something to sing about.  I’ll be waiting to hear it when he’s ready.

Michaela Drapes: I watched the Bill Withers documentary Still Bill a few weeks ago, during an endless late-night work jag. It was utterly charming to realize that Withers’ hits still held up, iron-clad pop marvels of a completely bygone age. Wish I could say the same here for Michael Kiwanuka, who has more in common with a few unremarkable NYC subway buskers I’ve had the misfortune of sharing the platform with recently than his oft-cited influences, including Bill Withers. Though I can’t fault the youth for (so thoroughly!) knowing the work of their elders and betters, the tastefully turned-out cut-and-paste emotions of “Home Again” left me completely cold.

Brad Shoup: I feel safe inferring that the takeaway is supposed to be a deep-feeling singer/songwriter, but the text gets a treatment of no noteworthy intensity. As an exercise in scoring a Wes Anderson flick, this would be great work but for the alienating vocal doubling in the middle.

Edward Okulicz: Kiwanuka’s sound is primed for success. It’s the perfect amalgam of what’s busting the charts and thrilling the boring aficionadi who go on about how this sort of music is too good for the charts. He’s got a warm voice and the producer’s instructions — “tasteful,” presumably — have been followed to clear effect. I’m not sure he’s ever been more than 50 miles from home, mind you, but the strings are pleasant and once he learns how to emote he might come up with something really good. Word in your ear, Michael: double-tracking (especially this clumsily) isn’t the same as emoting, and lots of people actually engage with the Adele records your record company only looks at with envy.

Alfred Soto: The arrangement verges on the sublime: picked guitar and the subtlest of string arrangements, like an Al Green recording from 1974 (I had to look up Green’s own “Home Again” to make sure this wasn’t a cover). Kiwanuka does run out of melody and lyrics, though, for which his dry, starched timbre can’t compensate.

Jonathan Bradley: “One day, I know, I’l feel home again,” but there’s no strain of dislocation in Kiwanuka’s performance, just the indolence that accompanies a soft couch and dirty dishes. He can’t even realize laziness properly; the whole thing feels like a nap that just leaves you more tired afterwards than you were before.

Doug Robertson: And once again the Sound of Insert Year Here shortlist gets bogged down with The Sound of The Mediocre Past. As many years of X Factor finalists have proven, a soulful voice does not an interesting artist make. If you like your music as smooth as hyper-filtered peanut butter then you’ll probably like this, but without rough edges there’s nothing to snag your attention.

Iain Mew: The five-est five ever.

8 Responses to “Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again”

  1. Edward-

    More like double trouble amirite?

  2. Honestly, that bit sounds like I mixed it.

  3. OTM, Iain. Nicely done.

  4. Thanks! I actually wrote more, but it’s better this way.

  5. Wow, he really IS the most MOR act of all time, isn’t he? Was anyone else expecting him to win?

  6. As of two days ago, yes!

  7. I guess I have to pull my Sound of 2012 banner of my Facebook now. Thx for the update.

  8. would like to go on record as saying i called this