Simply Red – Stars (1991): Review

Produced by Stewart Levine
Label EastWest Records

By the turn of the decade Simply Red were without doubt one of the UK’s best known soul/R&B groups, with a string of top selling singles and three original long players that faithfully recreated black music from the 1960s and early 70s. Lead singer and front man Mick Hucknall had grown concerned that the band’s sound was trapped in this era, and for the fourth album looked for something fresh and original that still maintained the vital link with the past. Having been impressed by Soul II Soul’s “Club Classics Volume 1” album, particularly the snappy and highly influential rhythms, Hucknall contacted producer/DJ Nellee Hooper who suggested Japanese drummer/programmer Gota Yashiki . Gota’s mix of organic and computer generated rhythms proved to be a masterstroke, making for a greater dance orientation and a more contemporary imprint on the recording. The indelibly positive results can be found on the superb opener, “Something Got Me Started”, which combines the white hot rhythm with Fritz McIntyre’s astutely rolling piano accompaniment.

Hucknall’s other major decision was to ensure that every song was an original composition, further illustrating his wish to relinquish ties with the past. Stewart Levine’s production effort is as ever polished, punchy on the dance numbers, smooth and considered when the tempo drops, never instrumentally confusing or upstaging the central feature which is of course Mick Hucknall’s iconic vocal performance.

As Stuart Levine would say, “Great records are easy to make if you’ve got great songs to work with”, and on the whole the simplicity in the sentiment is justified in much of the material on “Stars”. This can be borne out by sales, as the album went on to be the biggest seller in the UK for 1991 and ’92. The title track is a sparkling soul/pop single, with a beautifully harmonic multi tracked chorus. “Thrill Me” contains more of the intentional modern beats, and “For Your Babies” is a delicious ballad, partly inspired by the birth of a first child to manager Elliot Rashman. There are awkward missteps, particularly the tiresome dalliance with reggae (“Model”), and Hucknall’s continued political rants aimed at the Government of the day (“Your Mirror” and “Wonderland”). It’s hard to take seriously the opinions of a celebrity who spent much of his life not far from a cat walk in Milan, Paris or New York chasing young waifs.

Ultimately though, it’s Hucknall’s voice that stands out as an instrument of genuine warmth, sweet passion and perfect pitch. “Stars” combines this huge musical asset to the best set of songs he’s ever delivered.

8/10

Track Listing
1 – Something Got Me Started 10
2 – Stars 10
3 – Thrill Me 8
4 – Your Mirror 6
5 – She’s Got It Bad 6
6 – For Your Babies 9
7 – Model 5
8 – How Could I Fall 8
9 – Freedom 6
10 – Wonderland 6

Something Got Me Started

Stars

For Your Babies

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