Stars – Simply Red (1991)

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Simply Red are a British based Soul band led by singer, songwriter and all round front man Mick Hucknall.

On going into this album it was worth noting that it was the biggest selling album in the UK in both 1991 and 1992 which is something I doubt we will ever see again in the UK charts. I was also unaware that it is the 14th biggest selling album in UK history which when you consider that Simply Red and Hucknall are often given little respect from the music press the success found with “Stars” is quite outstanding.

Whilst I was aware of a few songs off “Stars” I went into it with little knowledge of it’s style or lyrical content. I have been astounded by the quality of the track that this album possess and am extremely impressed with the production and superb musicianship that the set includes.

One of the greatest examples of the impressive production is the album’s opener “Something Got Me Started”. This funky soulful pop extravaganza contains all the best elements of “Stars”. The piano, bass and drums all battle against each other and are in beautifully structured synchronicity as they all vie for the dominant sound. But as these instruments are going at it a wonderful saxophone solo comes in to override them all.

Hucknall sounds confident and smooth throughout the track. The last 40 seconds are a musical masterpiece as Hucknall conducts the finale, instructing the piano to “take it out” as it pounds the keys until it fades out. A wonderful song which I never tire of.

The title track is next and again there is a alluring beauty to the way the instruments blend together, working as a team on what is a really fantastic piece of Pop/Soul. The clearness of the drums in this track drive the song throughout as Hucknall’s voice is at it’s peak. Hucknall uses a low range in the verses which is a change in tact for him as his upper range had been his forte in previous songs such as “Holding Back The Years” and “Money’s Too Tight To Mention”. Clearly he was at the confidence pinnacle of this vocal ability with all the backing vocals also sung by Hucknall.

Lyrically Hucknall the song is about love but is a retrospective tale, especially in the second verse when he admits his failings and refers to a part of him that tried to hurt this person.

“For the man who tried to hurt you
He’s explaining the way I’m feeling
For all the jealousy I caused you
States the reason why I’m trying to hide
As for all the things you taught me
It sends my future into clearer dimensions
You’ll never know how much you hurt me
Stay a minute can’t you see that I”

“Thrill Me” again features a piano sounds that “Stars” has running through it. It again works brilliant and Hucknall sounds on top of his game yet again in this track. There is a temptation to try some vocal gymnatics on this track but he never oversings despite a few points where you think he is going to go off and do exactly that.

“Your Mirror” is a departure from the love song theme of the previous three tracks as Hucknall gives his first track on the album about the politics of the day in which he is criticising the Conservative government of the day led by Prime Minister Margret Thatcher.

“We’ve got to stand up for ourselves
Even if a leader so cold wants to glory himself
We’ve got to be strong
Even if our reasons seem wrong
We’ve got to not care
Even if the world that we know may not even
Be here

“She’s Got It Bad” is a Funk Soul frenzy with a real ode to 1960’s Soul music. Again Hucknall shows brilliant control on his voice as the song powers it’s funkiness from start to finish.

“For Your Babies” is one of the most low tempo tracks on here. The song lyrically has a real beauty as Hucknall is taking on the subject of having a new born baby and everything that goes with it.

“You know I’d do most anything you want
Hey I, I try to give you everything you need
I’ll see that it gets to you
I don’t believe in many things
But in you I do”

The song can verge on a little cheesy especially the way it is musically put together with the acoustic guitar strumming throughout which slightly dates the track. But it’s sentiment is well received.

“Model” is completely out of place with it being Hucknall’s attempt at reggae. The song is about Models (who Hucknall dated many of) and their lifestyles. There are references to cocaine use and other questionable behavior. This is an indulgent song and the weakest on the album.

“How Could I Fall” starts off as a bit of a continuation of “Model” in terms of the lyrical content with the line “How could I fall for someone so superficial?”. The saxophone takes over until Hucknall comes in with a contemplative tale about a relationship which is not going to work.

“Freedom” is another funk/soul number with a sample of James Brown’s “Owwwwwww” (from ‘Get Up Offa That Thing) used at the start. The song has a politically driven sentiment in what is the lyrically redundant track on the album.

“Stars” finishes with a the most Political song on the album “Wonderland”. This is a quite direct attack on Thatcherism and the state of the country. The song is mainly about the mortgage rate going sky high and the promises made by Thatcher that this type of thing wouldn’t happen have been broken.

“The end of an era
Our future no clearer
My people no stronger
The blame I lay on her”

Keyboard player Fritz Mcintyre features on this on this with vocals in a number of verses. He also features on “Something Got Me Started”.

With the success Simply Red would go on to have it is a little difficult to be convinced with Hucknall’s Anti Thatcher stance given his playboy lifestyle but clearly at the time (Simply Red were named after the Labour Party) his convictions about the country were genuine.

“Stars” is a great album – it covers a number of themes but most importantly it has great songs. A perfectly crafted pop album full of brilliant hooks, wonderful musicianship and a voice which should be considered one of the best the UK has produced.

Stars has stood the test of time and doesn’t sound overly dated which is always high praise for any album. Simply Red are unlikely to be considered a band that get recognition from the music press but do not let that snobbery deter you from giving this a listen.

Rating

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