An effort to remain hopeful in the face of aging, wisdom and weariness.

Somewhere between Home Again and Love and Hate, it would be safe to assume that Michael Kiwanuka did a little bit of soul searching. While Home Again was a warm, restful meditation on love and conviction in the face of potential cynicism, Love and Hate suggests that the flashes of world-weariness hinted at on the latter have, to some degree, taken over.

A challenging prospect, perhaps, for one expecting the warm, sincere smoothness of Home Again, but Kiwanuka has fortunately retained his sense of hopefulness; only this time, he’s exploring his innate realism as opposed to the optimism he once hoped for. Love and Hate sounds sometimes intense, sometimes tired and sometimes even vengeful in its melancholy. Lucky then, that the sound of a man in transition is an interesting listen.

Right off the bat, Love and Hate kicks off with Cold Little Heart. Gone is the man who once sang “I’m getting ready to believe”. On Cold Little Heart, Kiwanuka wonders if he can remain alive and well in his state of newfound emotional chill. A fitting tone-setter for the rest of the record it seems; Black Man in a White World, a ham-fisted “us and them” mantra, speaks not only to the disconnect experienced by a millennial black male coming up in a world attempting unity under a white hegemony, but speaks also to the feeling of one who finds a subtle joy and growth in bleakness, melancholy and pain. A ballad of a black sheep, perhaps.

Black Man in a White World, for all of its angst, stands out immediately and not simply due to its thematic content. It hints at the exploration of new musical territory on Love and Hate, unfolding with a buttery marriage of afrobeat rhythms and blues instrumentation.

Sadly, Falling and Place I Belong, though sincere, are oddly loose and middling, taking the vibe down a little too soon; a downside, considering that the intensity of the first two tracks build so quickly and although Love and Hate is a strong track, it does very little to build that intensity back up again. Moreover, Kiwanuka’s lyricism, while getting the message across and bubbling well with the material, could deepen the thematic complexity of his work with a little more opacity and urgency.

Fortunately, around the half way mark, Love and Hate begins to gain a little more consistency. Upbeat second single One More Night sees Kiwanuka delving further into motown territory than he has before, delivering an engaging parable about putting life on hold for just an extra moment of respite. The second half of the album thus highlights the first half’s inconsistencies, as post-One More Night, the tracks become tighter and more focused, with added bouts of distorted, yet tasteful blues guitar shredding.

Rule The World and Fathers Child carry the haunting hallmarks of deep cuts; Kiwanuka moves out from behind the veil of his previous folk leanings and seasons his material with syncopated beats recalling the work of Isaac Hayes and Bob James effortlessly, with no hints towards obvious intention or derivation.

The tightness and raw, rock edge of these tracks perhaps highlight Kiwanuka’s statement of intent with this record; the thematic thread of a man aging into wisdom and weariness shows itself to be best relayed through a sharper rock lens than the meandering melancholy peppered throughout the first half and indeed in some spots on Home Again. Love and Hate, therefore, is a solid record, if a little inconsistent. It is evidence of growth, and an essential for anybody wishing for a seminar in how to accept that while it’s good to be alive, it’s not always an easy journey.

This Michael Kiwanuka article was written by Lawottim Anywar, a GIGsoup contributor

Michael Kiwanuka - Cadogan Hall, London (30th March 2016) - LIVE REVIEW

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