Following our new music from Joe Clarke to start this year off, we're rolling back the years for Simply Red's debut record, Picture Book, from all the way back in 1985.
As people go, Mick Hucknall is someone that's certainly had a lot of flack from those in the music industry, and even back in 1985 when he was a virtual unknown, Picture Book carries this infectious and soulful attitude that makes the album feel like it's got something to prove. That fighting spirit embodies their debut, which certainly makes it a sterling effort already.
Come To My Aid sets us off nicely, with some great bass and Nile Rodger-like guitar that makes this a damn groovy starting point. Hucknall's vocal is intermingled amongst the instrumental backing that helps to create this amazing funky wall of sound that carries through the whole album. Sad Old Red acts as the recovery point from that energetic opener, slowing things down nicely to offer something a little more rhythmic and traditional. The minimalistic guitar and piano combine with Hucknall's crisp vocal to make this a rather jazzy tune that wouldn't sound out of place in a Parisian jazz club. With everything slowed down, it's a real foot-tapper.
Look At You Now speeds things right back up, with that up-tempo drumming and trumpet interlude characterising the song perfectly. What's more, the guitar solo in the latter third of the song also helps to eke out its funkiness wonderfully. Heaven again turns to Hucknall's more emotional side, allowing him to produce one of the album's best vocals with some brilliantly held notes and something that Fats Domino would be proud of. There's that same kind of rawness portrayed here that's only helped along by the soulful saxophone interludes and entwined brass sections.
Jericho continues this rhythmic and relaxed sound, evoking a sound similar to that of The Blow Monkeys and other sophisti-pop sounds of the decade. The inclusion of an electric piano sound here helps to bring the song to life, as does Hucknall's vocal and those light drums. Money's Too Tight returns to the funk seen on the first side of the record, featuring some thumping drums and signature piano. It's a cover of a song originally released by The Valentine Brothers some three years prior, and there's a certain poignancy about it being released in the mid-eighties. With Margaret Thatcher firmly into her second term as Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan in the White House, capitalism had swept the world once again. The speaker in this song is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, with the opening lines detailing how they've "been laid off from work" and that their "rent is due". It's rather interesting when you think about it.
Holding Back The Years is perhaps Simply Red's signature song, having been with Mick Hucknall since his time at art school. It details elements of the lead singer's personal life and his rather trouble upbringing. Beneath the fabulous backing that this song has lies a darker past that Hucknall speaks of in the lyrics. Indeed, Holding Back The Years was first recorded by Hucknall's first band, the Frantic Elevators, offering a faster version of the classic, but it's certainly at its best with this relaxed feeling. Open Up This Red Box sees a return to this soulful sophisti-pop that Simply Red are known for all these years later, with the piano taking centre-stage this time for an undoubtedly groovy sounding song that certainly acts as one of the album's standouts.
No Direction is perhaps one of Picture Books' deeper cuts and to be honest, it's pretty hard to see why. In a similar vein to the rest of the album, it acts as something fantastically up-tempo with some great guitar work and a sharp vocal from Mick Hucknall. It's a bit more funk rock than the rest of the album, but that's no bad thing, only adding another string to Simply Red's bow on this record. The six-minute long title track greets us to round off this brilliant album, offering something colder and darker that contrasts its predecessors nicely. Indeed, those strings certainly help to evoke this cold feeling that the song gives off, only helped along by Hucknall's passionate and haunting vocal. Moreover, those smashing and sporadic drums only make the song sound darker as the six minutes draw to a close.
It's certainly only right to praise Picture Book for what it is - an absolutely fabulous record. For a debut album, it certainly set the ball rolling for one of the best bands of the last forty years. Indeed, that soul is infectious and Picture Book is an album that's absolutely accessible, especially given its groovy sentiments.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/2CYsOX4
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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