English superstar Simply Red builds on the worldwide success of Home (2003) with Simplified, to be released October 2005 in the U.S. on Verve Forecast. The 12-song album is simultaneously a stripped-down unplugged performance, a hit-packed retrospective, and a dynamic recasting of the group's sound. The set presents some of Simply Red's best-loved songs in inventive, daringly intimate, new arrangements that showcase the emotionally nuanced, sublimely expressive vocals and distinctive songwriting of frontman Mick Hucknall.
Hucknall is widely regarded as one of Britain's finest vocalists and most accomplished songwriters. Over the past 21 years-during which time the band has sold upwards of 50 million albums around the world-Simply Red has built an extraordinary body of work that's produced a series of indelible hits and won them a large and devoted international fan base.
Simplified-the follow-up to 2003's Home, which sold over two and a half million copies worldwide-finds the Manchester-bred singer and his ever-evolving lineup revisiting various phases of the band's lengthy career. Hucknall delivers deeply evocative reinterpretations of such essential Simply Red standards as "Holding Back the Years," "Something Got Me Started," "Fairground," "Your Mirror" and "Sad Old Red," adding a distinctive Latin lilt while touching upon elements of jazz, R&B and reggae.
In addition to its nine reworked Simply Red classics, Simplified features three memorable new songs. Along with the infectious new Hucknall originals "Perfect Love" (featuring an appearance by the Cuban singer Danae) and "Smile," the album features an impassioned take on Leon Russell's "A Song for You," which continues a longstanding Simply Red tradition of inspired cover versions.
Simplified's pronounced Latin influence was inspired by Hucknall's recent visit to Cuba, a trip which allowed him to absorb the island nation's rich musical heritage. Simply Red recently became the first English pop band to perform in Havana, playing historic concerts at the city's famed Gran Teatro in January and August of 2005.
"I'm delighted about this signing," commented Ron Goldstein, President and CEO of The Verve Music Group. "This project came to us by way of Max Hole, Executive Vice President, Marketing and A&R, Universal Music Group International, who called to ask if I would meet with Simply Red's manager Ian Grenfell to talk about their new record.
"Of course," Goldstein continued, "I was immediately interested, so Ian and U.S. manager Lisa Barbaris came in and played the album for us and I was absolutely knocked out. It's brilliantly conceived and executed. I was really taken with the quality of the recording, the impact of Simply Red's strongest hits in the more acoustic approach, and the truly compelling vocals. The overall direction of the project is wonderful and Mick Hucknall sounds better than ever. There were also some promising tracks for radio, and we've already had great initial response to our first single, 'Perfect Love.' I also feel strongly that Simply Red is a band that adds luster to the re-launch of our Verve Forecast label."
The initial impetus for making an album of re-imagined Simply Red favorites occurred when Hucknall had occasion to perform some of his tunes with spare piano accompaniment, and was struck by how well the material worked in that context.
"I wanted all the songs I've chosen here to be re-presented in a timeless way," Hucknall explains, "rather than their being snapshots from the time in which they were first put together. By taking away the production values contemporary to their first recordings, and adding some truly inspired new arrangements and musicianship, I think we've achieved that.
"For example," he notes, "the original version of 'Your Mirror' was dominated by this very plunky-sounding '80s keyboard. This version makes it sound like a completely different song, so much more open and eventful. It's the same with 'Fairground'; here it's so ethereal, almost like something by Weather Report. It's been a real joy to open the material up in this way, and give it a new identity."
"Home won us a lot of support from people who found themselves just as tired of the general music industry as we were," Hucknall observes. "I found all of that incredibly liberating. My interpretation of that reaction was that from then on,we could make the kind of music that we wanted to make, without looking to market forces or trying to second-guess popular taste.
"It couldn't be better," the artist enthuses. I feel that this is the time when I can show people just what I'm capable of doing, aided by this awesome band I have with me. It's taken me a long time, but I really feel I've almost reached perfection with the band, not just musically but in terms of the complementary personalities within it."
With a large and impressive body of music already under his belt, Mick Hucknall remains as driven and creative as ever. "That we're more than twenty years into our career together is an immense source of pride to me," he states, "but I'm still hungry to write and record more songs. I'm still honing my melodic sense, my voice is sounding richer, rounder and better than ever before, and I'm very, very excited about the idea of all the music that I've yet to make. This is a very, very good time for us."
Rooted in the band's history yet focused squarely upon the present, Simplified offers a consistently engaging cross-section of the qualities that have made Simply Red one of the world's most durable and beloved musical institutions.
Simply Red album discography:
Picture Book, 1985
Men and Women, 1987
A New Flame, 1989
Greatest Hits, 1996
Love and The Russian Winter, 1999
It's Only Love, 2000