Album Review/ Michael Kiwanuka - KIWANUKA


By Daisy Lacey, Fourth Year Comparative Literatures and Cultures

The difficult third album - this is the second time I have written for Epigram about this however, this latest instalment comes from one of my favourite artists of all time, Michael Kiwanuka.

The eponymously titled KIWANUKA was released on November 1st through Polydor has been a long time coming for me and once again, after a three year wait from a dedicated fan, I was not disappointed.

I first heard him perform what was a glimmer of his first single from this album ‘You Ain’t the Problem’ when I was at Glastonbury this year, my curiosities were aroused then that something new was on the cards for the maestro Michael. He had also released ‘Money’ over the summer featuring Tom Misch, which although is not on the album, was a cracking ‘bum wiggler’ of a tune, perfect for the summer.

When he finally released ‘You Ain’t the Problem’, I was admittedly confused at first, I couldn’t decide for a good while if I liked the song. I adored the introduction, with the 60s sounds created by the piano and bongos and the haunting chant of the ‘la-la-la’. After listening to it several times due to the catchy introduction, I now love it. This song in particular has a similar tone to ‘Freedom’ by Richie Havens, the fast- paced raconteur 60s type of song.

Then comes the moment of truth, will I like the third album? I had listened and enjoyed the other releases, the heartbreakingly beautiful yet painful ‘Piano Joint’ which almost has the same amount of sorrow and torture that I first fell for on his debut album and the second album. It reminded me of a Bill Withers ballad. Whilst ‘Hero’ had the scorching hot guitar riffs and makes me feel like I should be driving down a freeway blasting this out loud.

This album has been produced with Danger Mouse (who I have loved since the Gnarls Barkley days) and a London producer Inflo. The outcome of this production line is a 1960s time capsule, from the dramatic strings and motown-esque on ‘Living in Denial’ to the simple bassline and tuneful psychedelic sitar on ‘Rolling’. Kiwanuka’s deep vocals are reminiscent of the likes of James Carr, they can make your heart feel and move in ways you never thought possible.

My favourite song on the whole album is ‘Hard to Say Goodbye’, it is such a poignant masterpiece, the guitar introduction and choral screeches set the ominous tone and then once the acoustic sound lyrics ‘little butterfly without wings’ kick in, you know this song is meant to hit all the feels. The contrast in dynamics and the echoing sound of his voice playing your heartstrings like a harp, this song reminds me why I fell in love with Michael Kiwanuka in the first place.

If you have never listened to Michael Kiwanuka, I feel this album would be a great starting place. He has finally, to use such a classic reviewer’s cliché, ‘found his voice’ and ‘put his stamp’ on the music industry. I am so pleased that after 7 years, people are finally coming round to listening to his music. On this album you finally hear the fully developed sound he has strived for combined with those beautifully simple yet painful lyrics which are the quintessence of his music.

If you also get a chance, go and see the man live, I have made an essential trip back to Manchester to go and see him perform in my hometown, I promise you that you will not be disappointed, if you like the album, you’ll prefer to hear him sing it live.