Steve Winwood Nine Lives Review

Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Nice tunes, shame about the pace.

Sid Smith 2008

There’s some good news and some bad news about the new album from Steve Winwood. The sleek production, laid-back grooves, deep-vein bass lines, sinuous percussion, and instantly singable tunes that have hallmarked his output since Arc Of A Diver in 1980 are all in place here. That’s the good news. If you’d like to hear Winwood’s undoubted talent break sweat a little, then it’s also the bad news.

Since reaching the platinum lined destination of 1986’s Back In The High Life there’s a sense in which Winwood has become something of a musical sleepwalker, content to languidly wander around his AOR / MOR surroundings rather than stretch and flex his muscles.

Of course his voice remains his greatest asset, possessing the apparent contradiction of being ostensibly thin and slight yet able to cut to the soul with telling effect. It’s this aspect of his work that has often carried material which would otherwise be anonymous and trivial in the hands of another artist.

I’m Not Drowning, a stripped-back blues shouter, limbers up nicely; Eric Clapton’s cameo kicks up the dust on Dirty City; Raging Sea (the second of three titles with aquatic allusions) surges with infectious licks, whilst Fly has a winsome charm that’s hard to resist.

Yet too often there’s a sense in which the individual components fail to connect effectively with each other, separated in a cloying sheen of too-glossy production.

Perhaps the worst offender is Other Shore. A bedrock of bongos, supple interleaving guitar and bass, and a wash of keyboards sway prettily behind a lyric that speaks of being free and the exhilaration of life and love. At around three minutes a sax solo gets all smoochy but the backing remains conspicuously unmoved by its ardent overtures and advances. It should be moving but isn’t.

The trouble with all of this is the album as a whole is taken at the kind of velocity that makes the queue in the post office on pension day look positively racy. Whilst there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this record one can’t help feel that like so many recent Winwood albums that it could have been so much better. Nice tunes, shame about the pace.

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