Mick Hucknall "didn't plan on making" a new Simply Red record for release this year. But Blue Eyed Soul, whose "Complete Love" is premiering exclusively below, is not only coming out Nov. 8, but is exactly what the title advertises.
"(The album) really stemmed from a little conversation I had with an Irish friend of mine," Hucknall tells Billboard. "We had a few drinks, and at the end of it he just very casually said, 'Ah, you're a great soul singer,' and that really stuck in my head. I said, 'Well, what do people actually think I am? What is it? Is that how I'm actually perceived?' I started thinking about it and realized, 'You are actually a blue-eyed soul singer. Duh!'"
Hucknall may be the only one surprised by that, of course. He came to fame with Simply Red's debut album, 1985's platinum Picture Book, and its hits "Holding Back the Years" and a cover of the Valentine Brothers' "Money's Too Tight (To Mention)." But over the intervening 10 band albums and two solo sets, the singer confesses to something of a contrary streak.
"I have this weird chink where I look at everything but the obvious," Hucknall acknowledges. "I've spent a lot of time creating jazz-type music and reggae-style music and all that. I'm sort of searching for something I've not done before, that I don't know about, this kind of curiosity that perhaps has gotten in the way of being consistent. So (Blue Eyed Soul) gave me a real focus into this kind of world that I love so much. I've been listening to African-American soul music since I was five or six years old. It's my meat and potatoes, really."
Hucknall approached Blue Eyed Soul, produced by longtime cohort Andy Wright, with an eye toward satisfying the spectrum of his creative ambitions. "I was determined to push my voice a little harder… give it more edge, more bite," he says. And he also wanted to create a batch of songs "that I knew the band would enjoy playing night after night, things that have a great groove and are so much fun to play 'cause you can extend them" — which led to Blue Eyed Soul being recorded mostly live off the studio floor in London.
"This record is a bit more raw and a bit more rough n' ready," Hucknall notes.
"Complete Love," however, is one of Blue Eyed Soul's silky smooth moments, with Hucknall channeling a bit of Sam Cooke in his vocal. "That song means a lot to me because it's really about my family," says the singer, who has a 12-year-old daughter. "There's a lyric by the great Nat King Cole in that wonderful song 'Nature Boy' — 'the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to be loved and be loved in return.' I was brought up just by my father, so you can imagine the difference now from growing up with a single man in a single house with no mother or anything and now being in a situation with a wife, a daughter — even the dog is a girl. It's a complete transformation. I feel like I have been loved, and I wanted to capture that amazing feeling in the song, this wonderful joy you can have from that kind of complete love."
While Blue Eyed Soul's 10 tracks were designed to be played live, Simply Red won't be doing that until October of 2020, when it has dates slated for the U.K. and Europe, followed by festivals on the continent during 2021. That would seem to leave time for the group to create even more new music, but Hucknall is quick to dash that idea — to a degree.
"Oh God, no. No plans to make any records — but I never make plans to make any records," he says with a laugh. "I think what we're doing is we hope that by the time we do come and play, a relative percentage of our audience, perhaps out of sheer curiosity, will want to go listen to (Blue Eyed Soul) and at least be familiar with some of the songs when we come and play them. But I would predict we won't be playing more than four or five of them because I like to entertain people and give them what they want. We're not the kind of band that's gonna go, 'We're playing our new album tonight in its entirety. Yee haw!'"