Simply Red members have come and gone but Mick Hucknall’s voice has (mostly) pulled the band through.
Intended as a homage to the soul greats, this new album opens with Thinking of You, which introduces itself with punchy drums before a hearty howl that’s more a James Brown impression than a nod in the legend’s direction. The chorus is simple and catchy but the low bass guitar is distracting and the overall sound is pastiche rather than inspired.
The opening sirens of Ring That Bell force you to pause and listen — though it’s easy to regret doing so. “Play your ding dong hard, play your ding dong smart,” Hucknall sincerely growls, as layers of guitars, percussion and macho backing vocals urging him to “ring it” create the vibe of a Seventies cabaret act at a holiday camp. Badbootz’s futuristic flourishes distract from otherwise enjoyable funk and leave the track feeling bizarrely outdated before it fades out.
It’s not all bad, though. If any songs could join the band’s biggest tracks then it’s the slower ones. Complete Love features Hucknall’s songwriting at its most sentimental — and best. It’s a moment of triumph on a record that sees a return to a vintage soul sound result in varying levels of success.