The Riddle, by Nik Kershaw
Suggested by Stuart Emerson
“Alexa, play The Riddle.”
“What has four legs and only one foot? A bed.”
1984 to 1985 was a good year for ol’ Nick Kershaw.
He released his debut album early, in February of 1984. Then, on my eleventh birthday (the nineteenth of November 1984), he spat out his second album: The Riddle, the subject of our opprobrium today. This ensured blanket coverage for an entire calendar year and beyond, and by “blanket coverage” I don’t mean paparazzi shots of Michael Jackson’s kids. Both Human Racing (reviewed as album 309) and The Riddle (reviewed today) helped him dominate the singles charts for two whole years, with an incredible sixty-two week stint, beating all other solo artists at the time.
It’s safe to say that the man can write songs. Or, more particularly, singles. Human Racing produced two belters in Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me and Wouldn’t It Be Nice, while The Riddle produced, well, The Riddle. Other singles from The Riddle include Don Quixote, with its funky bass, and Wide Boy, which is rather forgettable. Additionally, Nik Kershaw also penned The One And Only for a rampant and panting Chesney Hawkes, and for that sin alone he should be hoofed in the gonads by a stout man in work boots thrice daily.
So, singles are in the wheelhouse of the resplendent Nik Kershaw, or at least they were back in the day when singles weren’t about fabricated genderbands, talent show sob stories, or sausage f**king rolls. But if you cast your mind back to Album 309, I mentioned then about Nik’s Achilles Heel, which The Riddle shows has expanded to full-on Athlete’s Foot. For Human Racing, I noted that the music on the lesser-known album tracks seemed somehow adrift in itself. The separate parts of bass and drums or synth and vocals, came over as independent entities, and while the popular tracks like Sun or Nice (or the standout song The Riddle today) presented as delicious and nourishing meals, the rest came over as mere ingredient lists. The elements are there for a great song, but the pot is unstirred and the oven is off.
Don’t get me wrong, I quite like some of it. The hit is a hit, that’s for sure. Don Quixote’s aforementioned bass is a massive draw, and Wild Horses is a pleasant four minutes. But Wide Boy hacked me off because it was the subject of a Popmaster question I got wrong literally minutes before I listened to the album, and Save the Whale is overly earnest, and completely eclipsed by John Shuttleworth’s song of the same name. “Save the Whale / Its fins, its hump, its tail / Stop the slaughter / Don’t you think you oughta save the whale!”
As with its predecessor, The Riddle scores 5/10. I put it on, I listened, I turned it off. I think I have the measure of the man now, and the sun has definitely gone down on my need to hear more.