Friday, 18 October 2019

Simply Red - Picture Book (1985)

We talk about Reaganomics...


Released on 11th October 1985

Running time 44.21

This was white soul band Simply Red’s 1985 debut album, and it is a far deeper, more credible album than one may imagine. It is packed full of top quality musicianship, catchy funk hooks and an underlying observational cynicism about the contemporary social and political scene. You have to say that it was a really convincing first offering. The group were up there with the Style Council in delivering that mid-eighties jazz/funk/rock/soul fusion sound that was so popular in the era’s “wine bars”.


1. Come To My Aid
2. Sad Old Red
3. Look At You Now
4. Heaven
5. Jericho
6. Money's Too Tight To Mention
7. Holding Back The Years
8. Open Up The Red Box
9. No Direction
10. Picture Box                                               

Come To My Aid is an invigorating slab of funk/pop to open with, featuring some throbbing bass , funky guitars, punchy brass and a strong vocal from Mick Hucknall. Sad Old Red is a sumptuous, jazzy, bass-driven number that has a real laid-back, last hours of the evening feel. It is a most impressive song.

The thumping, vibrant Look At You Now sees the pace gear up again on a surprisingly lively song. It slightly reminds me of The B-52s in the middle vocal bit. A fine, evocative and moving cover of Talking HeadsHeaven brings things back down, though. It features some lovely bass, excellent saxophone and Stax-style horns. Jericho is a superb piece of easy going funky pop. Solidly bassy, this is good stuff, absolutely no doubt about that. Hucknall’s vocal is outstanding on here, as indeed is the whole backing.

Two huge hit singles are next, the light funk of Money’s Too Tight To Mention, which was a sort of partner to The Style Council’s Money Go Round, and the now iconic Holding Back The Years, which brought Hucknall’s stylish white soul voice to everyone’s attention. The former track provided a hard hitting response to the prevailing idea that everyone was stinking rich at the time. I know I wasn’t.

Open Up The Red Box is a chugging funker with hints of Talking Heads’ material from the same period. No Direction is also vibrantly funky, with a typically eighties funky synthesiser riff. The final track is the album’s most sombre, Picture Book is slow and mournful with deep, dark keyboards reminiscent of Ultravox. Hucknall again shows that there was a considerable versatility to his voice. It has a big, dubby bass line passage half way through that I love.

This was a debut album that deserved more critical acclaim than it got. Yes, it sold well, but it will never be found on any lists of great debuts or classic albums, which is a shame because it is very good.


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