What is an “Eighties artist”? Either an artist best known for their work in the 1980s but who then faded into obscurity, or an artist who first registered with the record-buying public in the 1980s and has managed to keep going ever since.
In truth, sometime Bronksi Beat and Communards front man Jimmy Somerville, he of the implausibly high voice, is a bit of both. Home Again is his fourth solo album and his first in five years, but he’s still best known for a cover version of Don’t Leave Me This Way which went to the top of the charts in his Communards days.
Always a man with an ear for disco, Somerville’s latest offering has its fair share of club beats and diva vocals to suggest that, if dance music is dead in the UK, the message hasn’t yet reached Germany. Home Again was originally released there in 2004, and the bulk of the album was recorded in Hamburg and Stuttgart. The resulting feel is palpably European.
Somerville, of course, has that voice – part Donna Summer wannabe, part choir boy with balls in a vice. On Home Again it’s in fine form, from the relatively bland yet radio friendly opener Could It Be Love through to the extraordinarily poignant Selfish Days, which comes complete with soporific strings.
We don’t escape his love of other people’s songs though – two of the 14 tracks are covers. Ashford & Simpson‘s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough harks proudly back to the Eighties. The arrangement here is interpretive enough to justify its inclusion, however. A phat bass (think Flat Eric) grooves under the uplifting vocals and piano.
But Not Tonight, the other cover, was only good enough as a B-side for fellow Eighties electro stalwarts Depeche Mode, but it is the revelation of the album. We hear a completely different version of Jimmy’s voice, to great effect.
I for one had no idea Somerville had such a vocal range. Whether he’s purposely trying to ape Dave Gahan is unclear, but the falsetto is banished to the chorus – where it augments the verses beautifully – and for the rest of the track we hear instead a voice resembling that of Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet. It’s rich, alluring and deep. We should hear more of it.
For out and out disco mania, It’s So Good, the only track recorded in Australia, is difficult to beat, and it’s the stand-out original track here. Coming close is I Will Always Be Around, a little reggae ditty the lyrics of which sound designed to appeal to the of-the-moment gay club scene: “You live each moment just for the day / But in your heart you long to embrace / and want to know how good it feels to be in love with someone.” Go, Jimmy.
Home Again is not without filler. Worthy of the fast forward button are Burn – starts, plods on, stops – and the cringe-inducing self-parody that is closer Stay. Elsewhere, the title track shows promise, but fails to light up the floor, despite some lovely reverse-record effects and a middle eastern sensibility. But filler is in the minority here.
Chart topping days may be long gone, yet there’s no suggestion that we’ve heard the last from Jimmy Somerville.