Hands up who saw this coming? Of all the comebacks we’ve experienced recently in pop music, that made by Nik Kershaw was not high on the list of the expected. Yet his return, far from being the kiss of death for ’80s pop, gives it yet another shot in the arm. Despite a number of media appearances in the last few weeks Kershaw appears happy to adopt a lower profile, though the title, EI8HT, shouts with pride at the number of albums he has now released. This is the first one since 2006, though he has been writing songs for others in the meantime.
Like them or loathe them, Kershaw produced some of the ’80s’ most distinctive and memorable anthems, his nasal voice making Wouldn’t It Be Good, I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Human Racing and The Riddle four postcards of an era that haven’t lost their colour. EI8HT doesn’t attempt to replicate any of those, which comes as something of a relief. Rather, it presents songs that show how much Kershaw has moved on, bringing the benefit of musical and life experience to the melodic and lyrical talent that still obviously remains.
Good songwriters don’t usually lose their knack overnight, and Kershaw proves that as he gets on this particular bike once more. Each of these songs is a self-contained unit, not exactly pushing the boundaries of the conventional pop song but well constructed and planting a kernel at the same time. Many of the songs grow in to earworms, which by the third or fourth listen are burned in to the consciousness. The Kershaw voice sounds good, too, not as nasal as before but comfortably carrying its own.
The catchiest is Shoot Me, with a chorus that pleads, “If I ever get like that, shoot me!” It’s in these lyrics and strap lines where Kershaw aims to leave his mark, though sometimes these cloy a little. The Sky’s The Limit offers an uplifting couplet that “the sky’s the limit, so dive on in it”, which ends up sounding better than it reads on paper, a ballad with lofty pretensions that stays just the right side of cheesy. Runaway is a bit more like it, with tongue kept in cheek as Kershaw asks, “If you leave me can I come too?”
There are some tender moments too. The instrumental break in Red Strand brings forward the Celtic strand found in some of his melodies and works well, saying as much emotionally as the chorus does, to give the music extra power. It proves an indication of the substance of much of this album, which may occasionally feel like safe pop music but which provides well crafted songs with often memorable melodies. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long for NI9E.