Mick Hucknall and Simply Red are rightly inseparable in the minds of most listeners -- he is the frontman and the star, the one constant in the band's history -- but the singer's short-lived solo career of 2008-2012 proved there was a difference between Hucknall and the group. Big Love, the album the reunited Simply Red recorded to celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2015, isn't as in thrall to the past as the vocalist's two albums of covers, nor is it as comfortable with rock as 2007's Stay. It is, as the title suggests, a record that is romantic to its very core, an album whose bones are as exquisitely smooth as its surfaces (the loungey tongue-in-cheek saloon song "The Old Man and the Beer" is the exception that proves the rule). Even when the tempo picks up a notch on Big Love -- and it doesn't happen all that often -- the speedier songs come in the form of a slow-burning disco tune, an aesthetic that isn't all that far removed from Simply Red's enduring allegiance to the smoothest sounds of the '70s, specifically Philly soul. At times, the overall veneer is a shade too clean, suggesting nothing so much as cocktail hour at a classy conference, but the fact that Hucknall and Simply Red choose to celebrate the softer, soulful sounds of the '70s by doubling down on the smoothness does separate them from the legions of neo-soul divas in the new millennium. Let those singers scale operatic towers: this lot prefers to take it easy and is charming for it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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