Review: Michael Kiwanuka’s 3rd album is expressive wonder

October 31, 2019 GMT
This cover image released by Interscope Records shows "Kiwanuka" by Michael Kiwanuka. (Interscope Records via AP)
This cover image released by Interscope Records shows "Kiwanuka" by Michael Kiwanuka. (Interscope Records via AP)

Michael Kiwanuka, “Kiwanuka” (Interscope Records)

Advice about letting your personality flourish, overcoming self-doubt, trusting your instincts and gaining the confidence to do your best work is meted out often and by many, but that’s easier said than done.

While Michael Kiwanuka was struggling with similar difficulties as he recorded his excellent second album, 2016′s “Love & Hate,” his new effort is an extremely successful example of being able to truly express yourself while possessing the talent in and around you for it to be more than a mere vanity exercise.

“Kiwanuka” expands and deepens the sonic palette of its predecessor, reuniting the Londoner born into a family of Ugandan refugees with producers and creative collaborators Danger Mouse and Inflo.


The three collaborators return to some of the musical touchstones of “Love & Hate” — Isaac Hayes, Terry Callier, Marvin Gaye — while often swapping the generally acoustic-based and neat sounds of that album for denser, fuzzier and more percussive atmospheres.

The songs usually flow into each other, simultaneously linked and separated by electronics, spoken-word fragments, vocal quilts and other assorted buffers, providing a sense of unity that also serves as a recommendation for listening to each song as part of a whole.

The opening trio of “You Ain’t the Problem,” ″Rolling” and “I’ve Been Dazed” covers most of the bases — an uplifting, joyous start; a soulful guitar riff that illustrates the lyrics’ urgency and the need to keep moving; and a smoldering track that adds instruments and voices and then breaks back down as the singer both offers and seeks support and guidance.

Kiwanuka’s voice is altered to sound worn and weary at the acoustic start to “Hero,” but regains its youth and vigor as the track gains momentum, including an electrifying guitar solo, to focus on violent fates, societal failures and personal challenges.

“Hard to Say Goodbye” beautifully explores depths of feeling as the music swirls, while the hope and devotion on closer “Light” intensify as strings, an ethereal choir and another extended Kiwanuka guitar solo each add a turn to the kaleidoscope.