Picks and Pans Review: Life

updated 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

Simply Red

From Kajagoogoo to Dexys Mid-night Runners, British one-hit wonders were the toasts of early-'80s pop. So when Simply Red scored a lucky No. 1 hit with "Holding Back the Years," their 1986 U.S. debut single, it seemed unlikely that their résumé would ever come this far: a second chart-topper (1989's "If You Don't Know Me by Now"), eight-digit worldwide album sales (some 25 million and rising) and a stunningly accomplished fifth album called Life.

On previous Simply Red releases, frontman Mick Hucknall occasionally fumbled at the mike trying to live up to classic American soul men like James Brown and Teddy Pendergrass. Now, Hucknall is finally just being himself, writing tunes that are consistently in creative sync with his graceful vocals. He complements the intoxicating shuffle groove of "You Make Me Believe" and the pained, blue-eyed soul of "Out on the Range" with subtle, finely nuanced performances, while "Fairground," the album's energetic first single, combines soulful abandon with tribal ecstasy. Despite cryptic lyrics—it's hard to tell, for instance, whether he loves or loathes that "boring" lady friend he sings so warmly about on "So Beautiful"—Hucknall's finesse brings Life to life. (EastWest)

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