"MEN AND WOMEN." Simply Red. Elektra.

Simply Red's brand of vintage rhythm and blues is pure joy. Not since the heyday of Culture Club has there been a multiracial British band with this big a gift for giving '60s-sounding soul music an '80s vitality. Lead singer Mick Hucknall has a funny kind of whiny, wily voice that technically isn't great. But it's in a category with quirky, distinctive voices like those of Etta James, Joe Cocker and the late Esther Phillips. With the right kind of material, it does the job with style to spare.

And the group's second album is a 10-song collection of the right material. Ranging from the cheeky raunch of "The Right Thing" to the dreamy optimism of "Maybe Someday," there are no false moves anywhere. Simply Red plays music like a band that's sure of itself.

An old-fashioned torch number like "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" could easily sound out of place, but it works because he sings it with the same level of wit and confidence.

There's a rambunctious, tongue-in-cheek flavor to "I Won't Feel Bad," on which Hucknall, backed by a playfully funky guitar, sings to an "evil" woman. The carrot-top troubadour even manages to sound cheery while getting the boot on "Move on Out," a rocking lesson on keeping one's own pass key, just in case.

Whether it means being chipper ("Let Me Have It All," "Shine," "Love Fire") or chagrined ("Infidelity," "Suffer"), this group sings the kind of man-to-woman, soul-style music that never sounds out of fashion. Simply put, Simply Red is simply marvelous.

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