Despite climbing into single-digit spots on the charts in most European countries, Simply Red's sophomore album Men and Women could not match the success of its predecessor - effectively turning frontman Mick Hucknall into the predominant creative force of the band.
Produced predominantly by Alex Sadkin (with the exception of one song – a cover of Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” – that Hucknall co-produced with Yvonne Ellis), Men and Women arrived about a year and a half after Simply Red’s blockbuster debut album, Picture Book, preceded slightly by its first single, “The Right Thing.”
“The Right Thing” quickly found its way to No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 11 on the U.K. singles chart, putting it in the same league as “Money’s Too Tight (to Mention),” off of Picture Book, but nowhere near the stellar success of that album’s breakthrough hit. “Holding Back the Years.” Unfortunately, none of the other singles from Men and Women charted in America, but two others did hit the top 40 in the U.K.: “Infidelity,” which made it to No. 31, and the aforementioned “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” which also made it to No. 11.
It’s hard to really call Men and Women a commercial failure, though, since it climbed to No. 2 on the U.K. albums chart and went triple platinum, but keep in mind that the band’s previous album went platinum five times over. And even though it shifted a lot of units, it’s definitely still a sore spot when it comes to the band’s frontman.
When reflecting on the album with Rhino Records in 2015, Hucknall did not hesitate to describe the experience of recording Men and Women as “probably the most difficult album I had to make, because I was having to deal with a lot of internal politics within the band and within the production.”
It was emerging that I seemed to be the only guy in the band who could write any songs. It created tension immediately once they realized that the guy who makes most of the dosh - the money - is the songwriter. And then, of course, they all want to start trying to write songs, which is great…if they're good! If they can kind of make it happen, great. But nobody ever came up with them, according to my manager. And it just created a different kind of tension that made it very difficult to identify us as a band.
I was hoping in my music career that it was going to be modeled on something like The Beatles: a bunch of guys, buddies, and they all turn out to be really talented and amazing. But that only happens, like, once every billion years! And it didn't work in that way for me, and I was quite disillusioned with dealing with this kind of enemy within, and it caused a lot of difficulty. I almost quit, actually. Because I'd written the songs, and I was writing all these other songs, but now I felt like I was almost now being punished for it!
In regards to the production of Men and Women, Hucknall explained that he and Sadkin butted heads in the studio, which only made the situation worse.
“I've always been very interested in sound and production and stuff, and I made it very clear to Stewart Levine (producer of Picture Book)...that I had ambitions in that way, and I was here to learn,” said Hucknall. “And I said the same thing to Alex Sadkin on Men and Women, but once I'd made that statement, he seemed to do everything he could to undermine me in the band.”
Needless to say, when Simply Red released their third album, A New Flame, Sadkin was gone from the producer’s chair and Levine was back again.
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