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‘Time’ Album Review: Simply Red Bring A Dose Of Heartfelt Pop Nostalgia
Warner Music
In Depth

‘Time’ Album Review: Simply Red Bring A Dose Of Heartfelt Pop Nostalgia

A mixture of soul, funk, R&B and blues, Simply Red’s 13th album, ‘Time’, finds Mick Hucknall in sincere and life-affirming form.

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Time, the 13th album by British soul sensations Simply Red, is a clock-winding dose of lively and obliging pop ballads and funky fan-pleasers. Bursting with all-new originals penned by the group’s figurehead, Mick Hucknall[], the album once again sees the flame-haired wonder run through an emotional array of songs which draw upon the band’s signature blue-eyed soul sound.

Released on 26 May 2023, Time delivers another soulful and groove-led dose of Hucknall’s confessional pop, each one of its songs affirming Simply Red’s place among the UK’s most enduring and iconic bands…

“When we were in lockdown, I went, Well, jeez, who am I actually? What makes me tick?”

Recorded in London with long-standing Simply Red producer Andy Wright (Blue, Love And The Russian Winter, Big Love), Time was largely written by Mick Hucknall in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “When we were in lockdown, I went, Well, jeez, who am I actually?” the singer has said. “What makes me tick?” Inspired by feelings of gratitude after spending time with his family at home, the dreamy and upbeat album opener, Better With You, sets Time in motion perfectly.

Over gentle, undulating synth tones and a hypnotic, lulling melody, Hucknall imparts a message of appreciation for his wife. “This song is about focusing on your family and focusing on the good things,” the singer told the BBC’s Breakfast show. “It’s that feeling you want to share with people to get your priorities right.”

Driven by a pulsing beat and a growling wah-wah bassline, the next song, Just Like You, is a funky pop track blessed with Nile Rodgers-esque work from guitarist Kenji Suzuki. Bringing in a change of pace, the ethereal synth ballad Let Your Hair Down follows, making for a smooth and sultry addition to the best Simply Red songs; Mick Hucknall’s soulful falsetto adds an extra layer of emotional depth, but the real standout is Suzuki’s blissful guitar solo.

“These songs are not about myself, a couple of them are actually stories”

Released in early spring 2023, as Time’s second single, Shades 22 sees Hucknall summon a chilled and breezy vocal style that perfectly fits the album’s laidback vibe. Drawing the listener in with its oscillating piano tones, the song’s dub-tinged production and Beatles-esque chord progression make for a decidedly classic touch. In fact, throughout the album, it’s clear Hucknall has been looking back to the John Lennon and Paul McCartney songbook for inspiration. Built around a steady beat, even It Wouldn’t Be Me’s easy-going piano stabs are reminiscent of The Beatles’ 1970 single The Long And Winding Road.

A storyteller by nature, Hucknall has explained how Time’s lyrics see him delve into the social themes he’s written about ever since the release of Simply Red’s debut album, Picture Book. “These songs are not about myself, a couple of them are actually stories,” he told Duran Duran’s Gary Kemp on the Rockonteurs podcast. “It Wouldn’t Be Me is about a girl that’s been trafficked and is ashamed of her past.”

Delving further back into the annals of songwriting history, Hucknall evokes the Brill Building era on Never Be Gone, a slow-burning ballad elevated by the addition of lush orchestral strings and gentle touches of harp. From there, the soft honking of a harmonica kicks off Too Long At The Fair, a nostalgic and folksy number that toys around with the driving affability of 60s pop, while Too Long At The Fair creates a delightful balance between the catchy and the mellow, its leisurely pace sweetening the pill for Hucknall’s lyrics as he expresses his dissatisfaction with the state of modern politics (“It seems democracy’s suffering a major shakedown”).

“Music is one of those wonderful communicators”

Stepping things up a gear, Slapbang is a Rolling Stones-esque blast of blues-tinged pop with a wicked harmonica intro. The song’s real standout moment, however, comes when a joyful horn section erupts in a crescendo of pure musical bliss. Further exploring Hucknall’s sense of political disillusionment, Hey Mister directly addresses the refugee crisis (“When you’re done with your complaining/Remember lifeboats of struggling humans straining/To stay alive/Just to survive”).

Flirting with funk but adding a touch of Duane Eddy-esque twang into the mix, Kenji Suzuki’s performance on Hey Mister is particularly impressive, as is the inclusion of 60s organ sounds. Revisiting the same funky groove from earlier, Just Like You (Pt.2) is yet another showcase of Simply Red’s stellar musicianship, with Hucknall’s airy vocals setting the mood before giving way to an uproarious saxophone and trumpet solo. Again, Suzuki’s guitar work is impeccable, bristling with intricacy and joyfulness.

The jazz-pop ballad Butterflies is full of finger-snapping and hip-swaying cool in the spirit of Georgie Fame’s 1966 hit Sunny. Relaxed and enjoyable, the song muses on the experience of emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown to cautiously greet the outside world (“What about the clear blue skies?/What about the air we breathe?/What about you and me?/Will we survive?”). “People are generally having a shitty time at the moment, but for different reasons,” Hucknall said in an interview with Manchester Evening News. “I just hope we get everything sorted sooner or later.“

With a subtle tinge of psychedelia, Earth Is A Lonely Place signals the end of Time, with Hucknall’s playful vocal melody capturing all the jauntiness of a late-60s sunshine-pop singalong. Building to a finale that recalls the closing moments of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album as a whole delivers what Hucknall intends to be a universal message. “Music is one of those wonderful communicators,” he has said. “Each and every person can have an interpretation of a song that can mean something to them.”

“The work that I’ve done on this is purely sincere”

Full of nostalgia and heartfelt meditations on life after the pandemic, Time finds Mick Hucknall doing what he does best. From soulful pop to heart-on-sleeve balladry, its intelligence and sensitivity are qualities we can all learn from. “The work that I’ve done on this is purely sincere,” Hucknall said in a BBC Radio 2 interview with Michael Ball. “I really tried to push myself.”

Sweeping us up in a mellow collection of well-crafted tunes, Time addresses the post-COVID era of mindfulness apps and Zoom fatigue with songs that strive for what we’ve all been missing: real human connection. “To be able to create something that is then shared with millions of people all over the world – what a joy,” Hucknall has said. “How can anything be more rewarding and fulfilling than that?”

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