Nik Kershaw: Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which contradictory terms are combined. It may be falsely true to say that pop songs often contain oxymorons in the lyrics; Ariana Grande may declare that “I only want to die alive” in “Break Free”, and Simon & Garfunkel sang about the sound of silence in “Sound of Silence”, but oxymorons are few and far between in most song lyrics.

Oxymoron is Nik Kershaw’s ninth album, and with the barbarians at the gates the title itself is perhaps ambitiously high-brow for pop music. However the choice of album title may not have been strictly down to its’ meaning; the photo of the front cover (taken by Mark Fox, also of Haircut 100) suggests metal oxidisation, so the title Oxymoron is not a big jump.

Kershaw performed at Live Aid in 1985, and has worked with Elton John, Sia and others. He has had some major hits over the years; as a solo performer in the ‘80s he became well known through “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, “Wouldn’t It Be Good”, “The Riddle”, “Wide Boy” and “Don Quixote”. In 1991 Chesney Hawkes had a UK number one with Kershaw’s rousing “The One and Only”, an alarmingly catchy song.

Oxymoron was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, in the same studio where “The One and Only” was made. There are an impressive sixteen tracks on the album, all killer, no filler, and all written by Kershaw (with two co-writes). The album is bright and uplifting, with Kershaw credited for guitar, keyboards, drum programming and percussion.

Critics have rightly suggested this is a relatively personal album, but there is also some political undertone. On “the Chosen Ones”, Kershaw presciently sings about being “wrapped in our bubble/of disinfected trouble”; however this is not so much a song about the Covid-19 pandemic, but self-righteous smugness and rule of the mob, perhaps pointing towards the reign of Donnie. “Long Live The King” is a catchy satire about a king dressed in chintz, his son the Prince just a step behind. The two co-written songs (with Paul Clarvis) also have some concern with power; on “The Wind Will Blow”, Kershaw memorably sings of “blowing our bubble, our trouble, our strife/free of those suckers and fuckers and tyrants” Then there’s “The Smallest Soul”, a song about an indestructible, unbearable, untouchable person with a tiny heart.

“The Smallest Soul” features a 74 string orchestra led by Sonia Slany, which adds depth to the sound. This is also the case on “Little Star”, a melodic, orchestrated lullaby, and on “Let’s Get Lost”, which has a striking and memorable vocal. The uplifting, inspirational “I Do Believe” is also enhanced by the dramatic string arrangement, as is the win-some, lose-some philosophy in “Roundabouts And Swings”.

Oxymoron ensures engagement through a variety of instrumentation and musical styles. The catchy “She Gets Me” uses polished brass and energetic guitar to convey the lyric’s enthusiasm. The soft and sweet reggae of “Can’t Go On” features some great soprano saxophone by Martin Williams and the bad day of “Come Back Tomorrow” sounds iconic due to the strong synthesizer.. The driving beat and horns of “Babylon Brothers” evoke the excitement of formative years discovering a love for music.

Kershaw’s lyrics are often surprising, keeping the listener’s attention: in “They Were There”, the characters are swaddled in Tuppleware under a “Simpsons’ sky”. The subject matter is also often unexpected. “These Little Things” celebrates the uneventful life, a good day when we make it out alive with “nothing much to testify”. Kershaw quietly revels about a lovely cup of tea with the missus, chicken korma, David  Attenborough on the telly, and “Ben & Jerry, just Vanilla in a bowl”.  In “From Cloudy Bay To Malibu”, an abandoned partner travels the world through a range of alcoholic drinks:

Off to Long Island for some ice tea
Thеn through Manhattan down to Tennessee
To see Jackie D

Kershaw is also willing to take on a difficult subject for pop music, getting older; in “The Best I Can”, the singer admits he’s not the man he once was; he won’t be climbing mountains, swimming seas or fighting dragons, but committing to small acts of servitude – fixing squeaky doors, charming the lids off jam jars, washing the car and putting the bins out, turns out to be a worthy type of romance. Kershaw may no longer be a teen heart throb, but the consummate musicianship and superb song-writing on Oxymoron demonstrate why he has had such a long and successful career in music.



Label: Audio Network
Release Date: 16 OCT 2020