I’m supposed to be too cynical to enjoy a rock song that espouses uplift. Reared on the slashing defeatism of college rock heroes who wielded buzzing guitars like impenetrable shields, I am meant to feel my strongest kinship with songs that wallow. And I do. Given the right blast of tuneful moroseness, I can put myself safely back in my bygone mode of melancholic disaffection. As I’ve noted in this space, though, I’ve grown far more appreciative of the tracks that swirl a finger longingly in a more positive body of water. I’ ready to hear that things get better.
Michael Kiwanuka’s third album, the somewhat self-titled Kiwanuka, arrives in late October. “You Ain’t the Problem” is the lead single. It moves with a bounding rhythm and intricate instrumentation, recalling those bright, beautiful nineteen-seventies albums that sat gracefully at the intersection of soul and funk. The lyrics hint at past darkness, a testing of the soul, but ultimately determines there’s freeing power in constantly moving forward: “Don’t hesitate/ Time heals the pain/ You ain’t the problem.”
Finding catharsis in a solidarity of misery is still a fine motivation for dropping the needle on a record, literally or metaphorically. But there’s a pleasure in nodding in recognition to a song that offers absolution from punishing self-judgment, especially if that song makes it all but impossible to resist shimmying along in time.