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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Nik Kershaw - 'Ei8ht'

Nik Kershaw was -as the saying goes- big in the 80s, particularly in 1984 and 1985, when a string of hit singles and platinum-selling albums had him sharing the stage with the rock and pop A-list at Live Aid. As his sales took a dip towards the end of that decade, he embarked upon an extended period out of the spotlight to concentrate on writing for other artists (and famously penned ‘The One and Only’ for Chesney Hawkes). He returned to the fray in 1998 with the splendid '15 minutes', the first album in his ‘post pop-stardom’ phase. He’s been on that path ever since, quietly producing thoughtful, tuneful, adult pop music without ever threatening to trouble the charts.

His latest release, ‘Ei8ht’, features another diverse selection of excellent material. Crafted middle-of-the-road pop music might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Kershaw’s melodic gift is such that these songs work their way into your head very quickly and then stay there.
The current single ‘The sky’s the limit’ would be a huge hit if Take That recorded it, while ‘You’re the Best’ has a chorus so absurdly catchy that you’d think he must have stolen it from an old playground chant.

His music is more acoustic and folky these days and some of the material could be bracketed alongside Crowded House, albeit with more focus on the melodic jugular vein. ‘Stuff’, an observation on the perils of rabid consumerism, has echoes of Ray Davies, while ‘Runaway’ contains one of those killer lines (“if you leave me, can I come too?”) that seems so obvious that you wonder why nobody has used it before. He has a nice line in self-deprecating humour and ‘Shoot Me’ is his jaunty take on the notion of old pop stars on the comeback trail.

Although he is very much a pop artist, Kershaw displays a willingness and an ability to explore big themes. A song about death might not sound that promising, but ‘The Bell’ is a beautiful acoustic piece in which he runs through the images he’ll have in his head when the Grim Reaper comes calling. Among these snapshots are images from his childhood, from a family holiday and a moment lying next to his wife. Most touching of all, he recalls an everyday domestic scene with these beautiful and poignant lines:

"There are high hopes in a high chair, sitting in there is a king-to-be;
and he’s smiling his little heart out as he holds out his little arms out to me".

That appeals to the parent (and the sentimental sucker) in me, but in a medium that is all too often mired in cliché, calculation and irony, it is refreshing to encounter unadorned honesty.

The melodies sparkle and soar throughout this album and the arrangements are always slick, but the odd pudding does get over-egged: the catchy refrain of ‘Enjoy the Ride’ perhaps overstays its welcome, while one or two moments feel like they’ve been polished for rather longer than is necessary. But those are minor concerns; the truth is that if we lived in a world in which it was possible for a singer in his fifties to have hits, several of these tracks would have ‘single’ written all over them.

‘Ei8ht’ is further proof that it is possible for a pop star to evolve and age with dignity, grace and humour. Nik Kershaw is an artist who is past the point of worrying about where his music fits in; he’s just writing lovely songs and enjoying life. This album might not push the boundaries of the modern pop song to the limit, but it showcases a very catchy set of tunes from an accomplished singer-songwriter.

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