From the American soul-funk school of Manchester musical thought comes Simply Red, a sextet led by raspy redhead Mick Hucknall (ex-Frantic Elevators) with a rhythm section that had played in Durutti Column and the Mothmen. Mixing original tunes with an eclectic pair of covers, Picture Book sounds like a lot of contemporary UK soul: a slick, earnest imitation that often goes astray. The LP contains the group’s first big hits — the Valentine Brothers’ “Moneys Too Tight (To Mention)” and the limp “Holding Back the Years” — as well as Talking Heads’ “Heaven,” which gets thoroughly sleepy treatment. (For those with the appropriate video gear, the graphics-encoded CD contains graphics, credits, biographical notes and lyrics in four languages. But the music is still dull.)
Produced by Alex Sadkin, Men and Women jazzes things up a bit. Most of the record falls into the polite dance groove of its predecessor, and smoky ballads aimed at the adult audience are irredeemable. But glimmers of excitement in the unrestrained joy of “I Won’t Feel Bad” and the sensual bump of Sly Stone’s “Let Me Have It All” suggest there may indeed be life after stardom.
Returning to Picture Book‘s producer, Stewart Levine, Simply Red made the all-digital A New Flame as major stars of easy-listening soul. Tapping the source, Hucknall co-wrote a pair of songs with Motown legend Lamont Dozier; he also dips into the sound of Philadelphia with a cover of Gamble/Huff’s “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” a 1972 Harold Melvin hit.
The Early Years, issued with appropriately misleading artwork to cash in on Hucknall’s subsequent fame, consists of pre-Simply Red singles by the Frantic Elevators.