Album of the week - Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate: Big themes and casual soulfulness

Love & Hate
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Artist: Michael Kiwanuka
Genre: R&B / Soul
Label: Polydor

Four years after the arrival of his debut album, Home Again – and after at least one false release date a few months ago, which prompted a few album reviews before anyone could get their hands on it – Michael Kiwanuka finally unlocks the chains around Love & Hate.

Like his debut, the album title signposts themes and stories (indeed, the album cover is an image of a fractured, decaying heart; one song is titled I'll Never Love), and as the songs unfold that's exactly what we get: an impressionistic concept album about a young man growing up in private and in public, with associated misgivings and anxieties on display.

The opening track, Cold Little Heart, is a wonderful scene setter; clocking in at almost 10 minutes, a lengthy cinematic overture is gradually infiltrated by mellow funk/soul that sees Kiwanuka scold himself for lack of self-worth ("Did you ever notice, I've been ashamed all my life…").

Black Man in a White World (a title that requires no explanation), references Marvin Gaye's 1971 album What's Going On. The fight, infers Kiwanuka – the London-born son of Ugandan parents who escaped the dictatorial regime of Idi Amin – still continues. That Kiwanuka can address such issues (and more, on the likes of the title track, Rule the World, Father's Child) and deliver the words in a voice that filters Otis Redding, Terry Callier, Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers doesn't necessarily sweeten the message.

Essentially, that’s the clincher. Unlike some other personal/ political songwriters, Kiwanuka knows the value of phrasing, musically and verbally, and what we get throughout Love & Hate is a narrative distillation of unease and atmosphere.

That he is able to cover such musings with casual soulfulness and incredibly deft, subtle and lyrical guitar work is the cherry on top.