A quick crawl across the ''net shows me that many sites rank "Back In The High Life" as Steve Winwood''s best solo album while others make the case for "Arc of a Diver". For me it''s difficult to separate the two, both are excellent examples of the ''80s...See more
A quick crawl across the ''net shows me that many sites rank "Back In The High Life" as Steve Winwood''s best solo album while others make the case for "Arc of a Diver". For me it''s difficult to separate the two, both are excellent examples of the ''80s throw-everything-at-it-including-the-kitchen-sink AOR sound, although in the case of the "AOAD" Steve W did nearly all the throwing himself while on "BITHL" he had a cast of thousands lending their weight; it''s the latter, Winwood''s fourth solo album from 1986 that I''ve pulled off the shelf today. Much of "Back In The High Life" may already be familiar; of the eight tracks six were released as singles [in the days when singles meant vinyl 45s], although not all in the UK and can still be heard occasionally on adult-orientated radio [when they''re not playing "Valerie"]; and three of the tracks were included on Winwood''s "Chronicles" compilation [and one of these hadn''t even been a single!]. So "Back In The High Life", and what better way to begin an album than with the drum fill that introduces possibly the strongest [but not my personal favourite] song on the album. A top twenty UK single, "Higher Love" featuring Chakka Khan on backing vocal duties is the epitome of mid-''80s sophisticated pop-rock blue-eyed soul music and a great start. Second track "Take It As It Comes" is not surprisingly weaker but with its horns and drum fills that ''80s sophistication is retained and its worth its five minutes for the lengthy bluesy solo and horn tweeting run-out. "Freedom Overspill", a UK single, opens like an episode of Miami Vice with its sound firmly rooted in Jan Hammer territory, but once Winwood''s vocals and Joe Walsh''s slide guitar kick-in its true soft rock colours are revealed. Although released as a single in the UK to my ears "Back in the High Life Again" is actually one of the less exciting and weaker tracks here as Winwood slows things down with his gently tinkling mandolin, and for some reason I am reminded of the circa mid-80s radio-friendly Genesis sound [why I don''t know]. The lovely introduction to "The Finer Things" sounds like the theme tune to a costume drama set in in Ireland, but then it all goes off in an entirely different direction, and after changing direction a few more times it finishes leaving me confused, all in all it''s a bit of a filler really. Next up though is the laid-back sophistication of "Wake Me Up on Judgment Day", perhaps surprisingly this slower soft rocking song is my favourite track in this set. Co-written with Joe Walsh, "Split Decision" with its synths and Hammond organ it''s another sophisticated track but it does sound dated these days and just screams big hair, shoulder pads, mix-tapes and Ford Escort XR3i convertibles [happy memories!]; and then "My Love''s Leavin''" a gently sad ballad draws things to a close and you just have to love the way the synth motif dances between your ears, then so cutting-edge ''80s, now so hackneyed. And that''s it, it''s only eight tracks long but each is in excess of five minutes. If you''re looking for heads down four to the floor rock you''ve come to the wrong place ''cos this is isn''t, instead it''s layer upon layer of ''80s sophisticated blue-eyed soul, a little dated now admittedly but one to keep at hand for when you need a spot of ''80s throwback time.