POP STARS **** Great Balls of Fire *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty
SIMPLY RED "A New Flame." Elektra.
*** In the white-soul genre, hitmakers George Michael and Steve Winwood get most of the attention. We tend to forget how good Simply Red's singer Mick Hucknall really is. The English band's third--and best--album is a reminder.
Hucknall is in love with '60s soul, which he gives a high-tech overhaul and an '80s pop gloss. Refracted through the Hucknall filter, some of the hard-core earthiness of the style doesn't survive. Hucknall has created a hybrid that's laid-back and maybe just a little too slick--but still teeming with understated passion.
Hucknall's high voice has grown richer. He seems to be straining less on these songs, and is smoother--and more convincing.
Most of the new album's music is dreamily romantic and fairly mellow. One of the best songs is "Enough," which reflects the fragile, wispy style of Marvin Gaye's great "What's Going On" album. Hucknall does a lush, low-key version of the Bluenotes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now"--emphasizing the soft side of the song. "Turn It Up," though, is a turn- off . Even its dance groove can't compensate for the mundane lyrics.
On this album Simply Red is reunited with producer Stewart Levine, who produced the band's first album, "Picture Book," featuring the hit single, "Holding Back the Years." His return elevates the quality of the production to its former level.