More meticulously crafted than its predecessor Arc of a Diver and more musically adventurous than its follow-up, Roll with It, Back in the High Life represents the pinnacle of Steve Winwood's '80s pop output. High production values, interlocking percussion lines, R&B backing vocals, horns, synthesizers, and ideas borrowed from various world musics enhance and update Winwood's proclivity for blues, R&B, and rock. His distinctive blue-eyed soul vocals are, naturally, at the front of the mix as well.
The runaway number one single, "Higher Love," with its syncopated groove, pan-African percussion, and slick Top 40 production, kicks off this accessible set. Elsewhere, the dance-gospel of "Wake Me Up on Judgment Day," the semi-acoustic title track, and the funk-touched "Split Decision" (which proves Winwood's R&B roots were still strong) keep the stylistic wheel turning. The record's success, sonically and commercially, should come as no surprise. Since his days in Traffic, Winwood has been a masterful stylistic synthesist, melding a range of aesthetics in ways that invariably connect with listeners. Back in the High Life is further proof of his remarkable abilities.