Truth be told, it’s nearly impossible to separate Simply Red from the band’s forever leader, Mick Hucknall. It was as much about his ginger-colored, tousle-haired image as it was the raspy vocals that defined that group as one of the more successful ensembles of the mid-‘80s and early ‘90s. Their hits were plentiful indeed, a veritable roll call of chart triumphs that took their cues from American R&B and then filtered those influences with an essential English style. “Holding Back the Years”, “Money’s Too Tight (To Mention)”, “The Right Thing”, “Stars”, “Something’s Got Me Started” and a stunning remake of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” all established the band as international stars and made Mick Hucknall a dynamic and distinctive singer to be reckoned with.
In fact, as Simply Red’s fortunes ebbed and flowed, Hucknall become the sole standard nearer when it came to preserving their legacy, and once the group ceased to be, Hucknall not only assumed the mantle but also found the confidence to venture out on his own and preserve the legacy as well. Still, there’s nothing like the original branding when it comes to rekindling the flame and putting fans back in the seats. Consequently, it’s not surprising that the announcement of a recent reunion should also be accompanied by the release of a new album, the first in eight years to bear the Simply Red handle. It’s also no surprise to find no new twists in the band’s tack; after all, other than drummer Pete Lewinson’s mere cameo role, the entire original line-up remains involved and intact. This, after Hucknall announced in 2010 that he intended to retire the Simply Red banner entirely.
That said, there’s ample reason for the group’s former admirers to celebrate the group’s return via Big Love, an album that retains their penchant for unapologetic pop and a sound so radio-ready, it’s bound to beg comparison with the Simply Red style of old. Giddy dance type tunes like “Shine On” and the “Ghost of Love” — the latter of which recalls the sound of disco redux courtesy of its sweeping strings — come across as a kind of audio time capsule, one that makes the passage of the past 30 years simply disappear.
Still, it’s hard to avoid the notion that as long as Hucknall is at the helm, the other players become all but incidental. After all, it’s his visage that graces the cover and dominates the inside booklet. Likewise, when he sings a lyric like “The way you smile that way / It sends me miles away / Daydreaming while I sit / And I think how lucky I am” (“Big Love”) the essence of emotion effortlessly shines through.
Still, whoever is responsible for that mighty chorus on “Dad” or that tear-drenched treatment of the title track does deserve kudos for stirring this success. Consequently, there’s reason to celebrate the whole, and a sound and style that are still spot on.