MATT KELLY continues his epic new series with his review of the legendary Steve Winwood’s appalling and completely useless 1997 release.
1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#4 – Steve Winwood – Junction Seven (1997)
Winwood’s a pretty inoffensive guy. He’s capable of being a bit naff at times, like the rest of us, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine he would be responsible for something as stomach-churningly awful as this. Inarguably the worst thing he has ever put his name to, Junction Seven sees Steve completely surrendering his artistry to trend-chasing pop, resulting in an album devoid of any merit whatsoever.
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It’s strange because his previous release, the final Traffic album Far From Home, suggested he was rediscovering his songwriting chops. But for whatever reason, come 1997, Winwood said “Fuck it, I want to be Michael Bolton only with less emotional credibility” and Junction Seven was born.
A key figure in this disaster is producer and co-writer Narada Walden who is accused of leaving Winwood down the cookie-cutter R&B rabbit hole, though Winwood presumably signed off on the material, meaning he still gets some of the blame. The funny thing is Walden has a strong pedigree – he produced albums for Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and many others and was even the drummer in Mahavishnu Orchestra for three albums. He’s had an interesting career, and you’d think someone asked to sit in Billy Cobham’s chair would be anything but a clown.
Yet something clearly went wrong – fire up ‘Just Wanna Have Some Fun’ and prepare to blush on Winwood’s behalf as this hopelessly naive dancefloor emptier for the over 35s singles night farts its way through such lyrics as:
“Oh what a shambles has been my day
I know I have to go to work but I want to play
Well, I’m lookin’ at my watch and it’s almost half past three
And it’s time for tea”
The man singing this is 49 years old and really should know better.
If ‘Spy In The House Of Love’ sounds like a clueless old man trying to be down with the kids while letting himself be steered by a producer who’s just as out of touch but doesn’t realise it, it’s probably because it is. Then there’s the INCREDIBLY annoying backing vocals on ‘Let Your Love Come Down’. And just you wait for the cover of ‘Family Affair’. A crime against music, Winwood’s version meticulously scrubs the song clean of any feeling. That’s generally the problem here – Winwood is a soul man, and soul is defined by rawness, a feeling of unscripted emotion organically bleeding into the music from the performers. This is completely at odds with Walden’s approach, which is to make everything symmetrical, perfect, polished, just so.
But oh gods, the ballads. The five minutes of ‘Angel Of Mercy’ feels like five hours and that’s BETTER than the excruciatingly slow, pointless ‘Real Love’. Awful drum sounds, predictable melodies, trashbag lyrics – it’s all so humiliating. I think it was during the incredibly lame plastic-Latin rhythms of ‘Gotta Get Back To My Baby’ that the album entered a very exclusive club of “records that literally REAL-LIFE made me start banging my head on the wall.”