Released as the 90s came to a close, Love And The Russian Winter found Simply Red freshening up their pop-soul sound by branching further out into electronic dance music. With the chill-out scene soundtracking a comedown from the hedonism of 90s dance culture, it found a sonic bedfellow in Mick Hucknall’s reflective songwriting. Pondering the turn of the millennium on Love And The Russian Winter, the singer closed the decade with a collection of mood-altering EDM and jazz-tinged melodies.
Listen to ‘Love And The Russian Winter’ here.
“Soul music is the common denominator”
By 1999, Simply Red’s line-up had gone through significant changes. Following the departures of guitarist Heitor Pereira, keyboardist Fritz McIntyre and longtime producer Stewart Levine, the only connections left to the early-90s ensemble that had recorded the gargantuan Stars album were saxophonist Ian Kirkham and Gota Yashiki, who had rejoined the group on production duty. Andy Wright – Hucknall’s songwriting partner since 1995’s Life – had begun to take on a larger creative role, and together they assembled a group of new musicians to scope out Love And The Russian Winter.
“I didn’t completely neglect my work,” the usually hands-on Hucknall later said of the sessions, “but I did basically give it to Andy and Gota.” Relying on his producers to make the songs more club-friendly and attuned to trip-hop and downtempo trends, however, ensured that Love And The Russian Winter’s spirit of ambition and temerity widened Simply Red’s musical reach into the DJ booths and chillout rooms.
“I said ‘love’ because that’s eternal”
Pointing the way to Simply Red’s new musical adventure, the album’s lead single, Ain’t That A Lot Of Love, was released in October 1999. A house-inflected spin on Homer Banks’ 1968 Northern soul favourite – fondly regarded by soul-music obsessive Mick Hucknall as a lesser-known album track by Stax duo Sam & Dave – it wasn’t the first time Hucknall had recorded the song. Earlier that year, Welsh pop legend Tom Jones had invited the singer to record a brass-heavy duet of the track for his own 1999 album, Reload. “I feel that he loves the same kind of music as me,” Tom Jones later said. “Soul music is the common denominator between us.”
Simply Red’s version, however, aimed to do something completely different. Taking a cue from contemporary house bangers such as Stardust’s Music Sounds Better With You and Armand Van Helden’s You Don’t Know Me, Hucknall’s update of Ain’t That A Lot Of Love transformed the soul curio into a club-friendly floor-filler, benefitting hugely from a felicitous remix from Turn Around dance duo Phats & Small. The single peaked at No.14 in the UK, charting the course for the group’s more EDM-inspired route.