Simply Red

Love and the Russian Winter

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Simply Red entered a holding pattern after 1991's Stars, turning out two records in a row that essentially replicated its charms, only with diminishing returns. Mick Hucknall must have realized he was stagnating, since 1999's Love and the Russian Winter is the first time since Stars that he's shaken up his sound. It's still recognizably Simply Red, as it trades in '70s soul and jazz-pop influences, but there are a number of reasonably contemporary influences added into the mix. As it turns out, these influences are largely based in house music, which means that Simply Red took some weird middle ground between Everything But the Girl and Soul II Soul. Still, these changes are welcome, since they've revitalized Hucknall and his collaborators, Andy Wright and Gota Yashiki. They're willing to try different sounds and write in different idioms. Occasionally, they might sound as if they're forcing matters somewhat, but there's also a number of gems that pop up on the album, from "The Spirit of Life" to "The Sky Is a Gypsy." And while the title may imply that Love and the Russian Winter is a concept album of sorts, that's not true -- Hucknall and company have reserved their ambitions for their refurbished production instead of channeling them into a song cycle. That's for the best, actually, since Simply Red works the best on a song-by-song basis, particularly when they rely on love songs (the millennium farewell "Wave the Old World Goodbye" is one of the more awkward moments on the record). Love and the Russian Winter doesn't quite rise to the level of the group's strongest records, but it's a refreshing change of pace from an outfit who seemed to have gone stagnant.

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