I have to admit that I think this time Sir Cliff has surpassed himself. Soulicious, in my humble (and I don't do humble for anyone, so that's saying something) opinion is one of his best albums ever, and I think you could make a case for it being his best album since Something's Goin' On in 2004, but I hesitate to say it, mainly because Cliff's albums are different each time. I think, for example, comparing Soulicious with Bold As Brass from last year would be unfair, because the two albums are just so different in style, it would be like comparing chalk and cheese.
In truth I think Soulicious is the sort of album Cliff could have been recording for years. I think Mickie Most once said that Cliff has, and I hope this won't offend anyone, a black edge to his voice. I think that's spot on, and I think he uses it to its full effect on this one. The public, I suppose, knows Cliff for rock and pop, but on Soulicious he gets to unleash his ability with this R&B and soul material, and the style fits him like a well made glove. In a way the natural forerunner for this album is Real As I Wanna Be (1998), with its glorious R&B feel, but on this one Cliff takes it even further, and the results, for my money, are staggering.
The vocals on the whole album are sublime. Cliff is heartbreaking on Go On And Tell Him, a track I openly admit to crying at the first time I heard it, with its message that a broken relationship is fixable, all the woman has to do is tell the new boyfriend that she still loves the ex and go back where she should be. The funny thing for me is that it isn't even remotely near the knuckle, I can't think why it made me cry! However, really get the tissues out for Do You Ever, where Cliff pours out his soul and hands it to you virtually gift-wrapped. Imagine Miss You Nights multiplied by a factor of about 1000 and you'll get how weepy this one is. I should also say that Brenda Holloway is fantastic on Do You Ever. Her vocals are wonderful and add to the intensity of Cliff's to perfection. Get the tissues out and listen.
Soulicious sort of hits you between the eyes. Right from the off with Saving A Life something palpably different is going on here. There is a joyous energy to the whole album, where I think the balance has been struck perfectly between an authentic Motown/Soul sound, especially on tracks such as Saving A Life, This Time With You, She Looked Good, Are U Feeling Me and How We Get Down (glorious harmonies on this one), with a contemporary soul style, such as in tracks like Birds Of A Feather, Every Piece Of My Broken Heart (with stunning falsetto vocals from Cliff) and Don't Say You Love Me, which for me has all the dynamics of We Don't Talk Anymore. There is a level of anatagonistic venom in Don't Say You Love Me that might even surprise a few, you know, those who think Cliff is all ballads and Christmas songs.
I think it's hard to tell what the covers are and what the new tracks are, at least on listening. All of them blend so well together. I'm Your Puppet is so laid-back and cool it needs an overcoat and slippers, but Teardrops is so energetic it could run a marathon. Oh How Happy is full on gospel, rather like The Miracle from Real As I Wanna Be in style, then there is Always And Forever, where Cliff's warm rich vocals lead the way to Billy Paul ad-libbing his heart out, and doing so with such class.
I really don't think there is a bad track on the album. They all fit together beautifully. I also don't think people need to worry about Cliff not being centre-stage with the duets. This is very much Cliff's album, make no mistake about it, but the guest vocals work so well with him. There are too many highlights to mention really, but Candi Staton, Peabo Bryson and Brenda Holloway work so well with Cliff, adding colour and depth, but also allowing Cliff to lead and shine.
If there is any justice Cliff will have an absolute smash with this one. He deserves to.