Albums of the week: From Michael Kiwanuka to Kanye West
This week's new releases include the long-awaited comeback record from rockers Hootie And The Blowfish and the third from Michael Kiwanuka.
MICHAEL KIWANUKA - KIWANUKA
When your first thought upon hearing the first track on an album is "classic soul stomper", there's a good chance what follows is going to be to your liking.
And so it is with Michael Kiwanuka's almost self-titled third album. That opening song, You Ain't The Problem, would not have been out of place on a late 1960s Marvin Gaye record - it's that good.
The next two tracks, Rolling and I've Been Dazed, play into each other in a very 1970s style, while recordings from 1960s US civil rights campaigns link other songs. Though most of the songs are influenced by soul greats such as Gaye and Otis Redding, Hero - the heaviest track on the album - owes more to Jimi Hendrix.
Kiwanuka's debut album, Home Again, was a powerful calling card. His second, Love & Hate, proved the first was no fluke. With his third, the Londoner leaves us in no doubt that he is one of the most talented artists to have emerged this century.
HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH - IMPERFECT CIRCLE
Darius Rucker and co return with a first studio album in 15 years, following on from a first large-scale tour in 12. The question is - why?
There must be an audience for middle-aged men singing soft rock songs about sex, but the appeal eludes me. Every song barring We Are One clocks in at between three minutes 10 seconds and three minutes 33 and the vast majority follow an identical formula of plodding riffs and unbelievably derivative lyrics.
The funky intros to Hold On and Turn It Up threaten an improvement but amount to little - the former immediately collapses into the hopeless couplet "Only heartbreak on the six o'clock news/They oughta call it the six o'clock blues" - leaving only the delicate piano-led ballad Change to rise above the mire.
JEFF LYNNE'S ELO - FROM OUT OF NOWHERE
If there is one thing you can count on in music and in life, it's that Jeff Lynne can pull off an album of perfect harmonies and dreamy vocals.
It's laid-back, soothing and symphonic. There isn't a single track that stands above any of the others - there are hazy memories of Sweet Talkin' Woman with the title track From Out Of Nowhere.
Mr Blue Sky himself has turned to creating mindfulness in hopeful chords of joy and encouraging lyrics. All My Love is a heart-warming, country-style, guitar-twanging remembrance of a love that once was, evoking long autumn walks wrapped up and kicking the golden leaves around your feet. This is a record that is perfect for those dark autumn evenings.
KANYE WEST - JESUS IS KING
For all the hype, abandoned projects and grand posturing, Jesus Is King tells us little about Kanye West's seismic spiritual awakening. The rapper's ninth was touted as an album of gospel, of introspective, revelatory music.
Instead, its brief (by West's standards) 27 minutes unfold more as a perfunctory discussion around the topic and give little away about God's role in West's life. The Chicagoan does little here to damage his reputation as one of music's most iconoclastic figures.
But Jesus Is King's dense collage of gospel choirs, church organs and proselytising feels weightless and euphoric at its best, overpowered and clunky at its worst. It also lacks West's trademark sense of humour, without which his famous braggadocio falls a little flat.
GABRIELLA CILMI - THE WATER EP
Raspy-voiced Australian music star Gabriella Cilmi had her breakthrough back in 2008 with debut album Lessons To Be Learned and hit single Sweet About Me, but her new six-track EP marks a new sound and a new mindset.
The songs are bold and gutsy, her voice more gravelly and alluring than ever, creating an authentic, more honest sound.
Opener Keep On Keeping is a moody, addictive, all-guns-blazing kind of song, while the twangy, bluesy Safe From Harm is comforting.
In the track - a personal song for the singer as she deals with guilt, absolution and mental health - Cilmi's voice sounds remarkably like Macy Gray.
A positive comeback and hopefully a sign of a bright second phase of her music career.