It was 20 years ago that the sassy and soulful British band Simply Red debuted and unleashed a few million sighs with Picture Book. Ten albums later, it only makes sense for Mick Hucknall and his crew from Manchester to redo their hits and favorites, which they do on Simplified. The CD's stripped-down, jazzified essence might have come off as slightly desperate but instead stands as an inspired work from a band that has not only held back the years but managed to mature gracefully.
Kudos must be extended for the reworkings of classics such as "Something Got Me Started," "Sad Old Red," "Fairground" and "Smile," familiar tunes thankfully given fresh identities with new arrangements and Hucknall's still-suave vocals. This is especially true with "Fairground," a dance-disco ditty repackaged as a Quiet Storm classic, and "Sad Old Red," which resurfaces as swinging jazz. But of course you're going to want to hear what they've done with "Holding Back the Years." The familiar song begins with an unfamiliar soft bossa nova shuffle and, with Hucknall's now slightly weathered voice making the lyrics suddenly understandable, leads into smoky sax and flamenco-style guitar solos. Twenty years later and Hucknall now more than ever sounds like he really means what he's singing. It's a powerful song. Another classic that's held up, "For Your Babies," is rendered even more powerful than the original, strings enhancing its melancholy and graceful piano melody.
New songs include a pretty, drum-brushed take on Leon Russell's "Song For You," a tune that truthfully is pretty tough to mess up. The new song is the CD's first single, "Perfect Love," an upbeat rumba offering the vocals of Cuban-based singer Danae, a buff horn section and a squealing rock guitar a la Carlos Santana. Hucknall was inspired to write the song after a visit and performance to Cuba earlier this year. The track is revisited later on as a Brazilian/Latin ballad and retitled "My Perfect Love."
Simplified is more than a wink to the band's name-it's a welcome musical statement.