The London-based soul songster is back with a mature follow-up to his debut album.

Fans have had to wait four years for Michael Kiwanuka’s second album. This is partly because his debut Home Again attracted the attention of Kanye West, who invited Kiwanuka to work with him on 2013’s Yeezus. The experience was not altogether comfortable for the Londoner, who told NME: “I had no idea what to do”. His religious views conflicted with Kanye’s comparisons of himself to God. So, he left the creative team without making it onto the album.

“The political content of ‘Black Man In A White World,’ with its funk inflections, feels incredibly current…”

However, Home Again also caught the attention of producer Danger Mouse, who ended up co-producing Love & Hate alongside British collaborator Inflo. A heavyweight of the industry, Danger Mouse has worked with the likes of Gorillaz, Beck, Adele and The Black Keys. Shades of Gnarls Barkley, another of his projects (alongside CeeLo Green), are noticeable throughout this record.

But, surprisingly, comparisons can be more easily drawn with Danger Mouse’s 2010 album Rome, which was inspired by Spaghetti Western film scores and featured both Jack White and Norah Jones on vocals. The choir and strings on Love & Hate’s ‘Falling’ and 10-minute opening track ‘Cold Little Heart’ best illustrate the parallels between the two albums.

The new album retains the 70s soul character of the 29-year-old’s previous record (which was compared in almost every review to Bill Withers – high praise indeed). However, the sound is slightly updated and more ambitious. The political content of ‘Black Man In A White World,’ with its funk inflections, feels incredibly current, as does ‘Place I Belong’. ‘Father’s Child’ and ‘I’ll Never Love’ are more personal ballads but just as relevant in theme.

“This is proper 21st-century soul, done well”

The variation on the album perhaps comes from having two very different producers. ‘One More Night’ – backed by a prominent bassline and relaxed brass accompaniment – introduces some welcome levity. Stripped back numbers such as ‘Rule The World’ accentuate the quality of Kiwanuka’s voice. Tiny cracks punctuate his velvet delivery and add richness and depth to the piece.

Closing track ‘The Final Frame’ is unafraid to take its time. This reflects the album overall – only two of the ten songs clock in at under four minutes. With a tender guitar riff which descends into an expressive solo in the final seconds of the track, it concludes the record brilliantly. This is proper 21st-century soul, done well.

Imran Rahman-Jones

Image courtesy of Michael Kiwanuka via Facebook

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