Anyone who’s ever accused British black singers of being perhaps a little bland compared to their American equivalent has clearly been at the shops for the last 20 years: black music in the country has encompassed everything from the brilliance of Dizzee Rascal, the internationalism of Estelle and the prize-winning suss and sass of Speech Debelle. But for the old school trailblazers, times have been harder, and so it’s been for Beverley Knight – her thoughtful, soulful music has often been seen as both retro and a bit dull.
Not so this time round, as 100% – Knight’s fifth album, produced by the awesome Jam & Lewis – sees the singer rip it all up and start again. Literally so in the case of the splendid, must-be-a-single In Your Shoes, which doesn’t so much sample Orange Juice’s Rip It Up as sit on its back and ride it to market. Throughout, musical surprises complement Knight’s natural smoothness.
The title track, which is a full-on proper Anita Baker croon tune, is predicated not on a lot of timbales sprinkling about over some nice chords, but an ambient ripple running under it like Brian Eno leaving his bath taps running and some nice brassy, almost John Barry-esque soul stabs. And the stand-out moment, Soul Survivor, is built to resemble the Big Song from an 80s movie (so much that it even has big chunky synths and the presence of the great Chaka Khan) before working its way through most genres of soul (there’s even a great Fauxtown bridge).
Fans of the traditional Knight sound will be heartened by balladry and such on Bare and the closer, a gorgeous waft through The Bee Gees’ Too Much Heaven, but what prevails here is a sense of invention, imagination and even freedom. In an age where soul music is often seen as being a weepy girl singing every note known to humanity on a TV talent show, it’s good that Beverly Knight is not only back but also brilliant.
BBC Review by: David Quantick 11.09.09
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