Having been thrust back into the public consciousness, and the top ten, by Uniting Nations‘ sampling of their US chart-topper Out Of Touch, it seems as good a time as any for Daryl Hall and John Oates to unleash this collection of covers and fresh material.
The Philadelphia duo were hugely successful in the early to mid-eighties, scoring a string of number ones stateside while also achieving sizeable hits in the UK with I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), Maneater and Family Man. But it is well over twenty years since their soft, soul-infused rock propelled them to such lofty heights so how has their music evolved since?
Well, almost entirely gone are the keyboards that featured so strongly on their most popular work, as are the dramatic, near-falsetto vocals form Daryl Hall. Instead we are left with acoustic guitar, soft strings, syrupy production and straight-forward crooning.
Most of the tracks are cover versions of the duo’s all-time favourite songs so we have renditions of The O’Jays‘ Used To Be My Girl, You Are Everything by The Stylistics and Al Green‘s I’m Still In Love With You. But often the motivation behind such an exercise often seems to be songwriters’ block rather than a genuine desire to add something new to the originals and that sadly seems to be the case with Our Kind Of Soul.
A recent, refreshing exception to this rule was the Beautiful South‘s collection of completely overhauled re-workings, but the same cannot be said of Hall and Oates’ perfectly competent yet remarkably flat interpretations of The Four Tops‘ Standing In The Shadows Of Love and Barry White‘s Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love. Two such powerful and energetic songs are effectively neutered, turning into bland, plodding shadows of their former selves.
There are three new offerings alongside the covers but they are similarly easy on the ear and uneventful. One of them, Soul Violins, contains the hilariously cheesy chorus of “I hear soul violins when you walk through the door” which is no less baffling once you have read the extensive cover notes that accompany each song than it was before.
This is the musical equivalent of a couple going through the motions of life together long after their relationship has petered out with no inspiration or passion save vain attempts to rekindle what they once had by re-living the past.
Perhaps if you loved Hall and Oates during their heyday and have mellowed as they have over the past two decades then this album will form the perfect soundtrack to kicking your shoes off and relaxing with a cup of tea in front of the fireplace. It is, after all, a very nicely sung, happily inoffensive album, which may be ideal for Valentines Day listening, but it contains not one moment of excitement over seventeen tracks.
Both comebacks and cover versions often divide listeners into two love / hate camps. I tried to love Our Kind Of Soul for the sake of Hall and Oates’ back catalogue, then I tried to hate it for the exact same reason, but all I could feel was passionless indifference towards such a lukewarm collection of sugary ballads and watered down soul. Yes, Daryl Hall has a great voice but if only he could work up some of the old magic with John Oates to produce some striking new material rather than this bucket of middle of the road slush.