Review: ‘Walk On By’ by Sybil (Vinyl, 1990)


Today’s POP RESCUE is the 1990 second album Walk On By by singer Sybil, but should you stop for a listen, or run for the hills? Let’s find out…

The album opens with lead single Don’t Make Me Over, which has a beat that musically reminds me of a hybrid of Soul II Soul’s Keep On Movin’ and Take That’s Pray. This is quite a mellow and soulful track to open an album, and to be honest, despite it being a Dionne Warwick cover (penned by songwriting royalty Burt Bacharach and Hal David), I’m not wild about this mild start to this 12 track LP. Despite this, the single did give Sybil her first top 20 UK hit, scraping in at #19 in the summer of 1989.

Love’s Calling follows this, and the pace picks up here, thanks to an light dance beat and vocals that feel more confident. There’s also some DJ record scratching and vocal samples that just tip this song into the catchier side.

Things continue to grow stronger with the harder beats and house piano on I Wanna Be Where You Are – a cover of Michael Jackson‘s 1972 hit. Here, Sybil finally gets to show off her fantastic vocal range, and she’s boosted by warm backing vocals that help to lift her just that little bit higher. Vocally she’s pretty loyal to Michael’s high vocals, so this feels like an obvious choice of cover, it’s just a shame that there’s several here on this album. The sultry tender mid-section spoken section feels a bit out of place, but it’s pretty short and sweet that it doesn’t really wreck things. Whilst this track didn’t chart in the UK, it did bring success to her in the USA.

Crazy For You is up next opening with what sounds like a track that’s flopped straight out of a box of secret 80s songs for Bobby Brown or even Janet Jackson. Surprise appearance comes here in the form of a rap from duo Salt-n-Pepa. I think that this track is really good and should have been the album’s opening song. Despite this being the third single from the album, following her previous hit by only 3 months, I’d never heard of it, and that’s because it somehow stalled at #71. Give it a spin – it deserves a re-release somehow.

Thumping beats and piano usher in Bad Beats Suite, which by its title suggests that it’s probably going to be Sybil-lite. There’s some vocals from earlier track I Wanna Be Where You Are. It’s kind of a album remix medley.. for some reason.

The title track, second single, and cover version Walk On By (another Dionne Warwick track penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) closes side one, and I think that this is a really nice version. The song shows off her vocals well, and is suitably downbeat, laced with a soft percussive beat, and storm sounds. A great track, and worth the wait, and rightly gave Sybil a #6 UK hit single in January 1990.

Side Two opens with Take Me Away, which is full of synths and a thudding bass drum and wandering bass guitar. This is more like it! Sybil also gets to show off her vocals again. Hello side two.

This upbeat sound continues into Give It To Me, with more dance beats and piano sections. Sybil’s soon back in with vocals, although she’s stuck with quite a low range in the verses. This is a good track, but definitely not single material.

Living For The Moment – a rich-sounding ballad follows this. Sybil’s vocals sound wonderfully warm here, although not exactly challenged. Musically the song kind of gently wafts along. I’m reminded of Toni Braxton a little here.

Can’t Wait (On Tomorrow) comes bounding in with heavy beats, crashing synth orchestra stabs, more house piano. This track could have been a single, just about, as it’s a grower.

Similarly, We’re Gonna Make It Work This Time is loaded with pop promise too from its intro, although Sybil’s vocals once again feel like they’ve been fenced in a little. It starts off well, and whilst it’s musically quite nice, the song doesn’t really go anywhere – just kind of slowly slinking off to the fade.

The album closes with In My Dreams, which hints at a disco sound with dramatic synth string sounds. I like the funky bass in this track, which sits perfectly under Sybil’s vocals. Thankfully this is an upbeat ending to the album and whilst it’s not single material again, it feels like it belongs here on a Sybil album.

Side one of this album is a bit disappointing considering the brilliance of songs that were yet to come (mostly When I’m Good And Ready and her appearance with West End on The Love I Lost). Here it feels like this is Sybil heading towards what would become a brief dancefloor career, but the inconsistency here perhaps made it easy for those who bought her albums to allow her to be overtaken by Gabrielle, Toni Braxton, and Shara Nelson, whilst Rozalla eventually snuck off with the belting dance tracks.

Thankfully side two just about delivers enough to keep my interest and serves up some nice little early pop sounds. Walk on by? To be honest, I probably would.

Where is Sybil now?

After releasing this album, which was more successful for her in the US, Sybil eventually received her deserved attention in the UK after collaborating with West End on single The Love I Lost. This gave her a huge #3 dance hit in January 1993, and she followed this up with the track that became her biggest solo hit and that which is probably synonymous with her name – When I’m Good And Ready, which saw her reach #5 in the UK chart in March 1993 and spawn a slew of infectious remixes. She released her third UK album Good ‘n’ Ready three months later, scoring a #13 UK hit album, which was partly produced by Mike Stock and Pete Waterman.

She followed this with a number of singles, but failed to return to the UK top 40, with her final UK charting single When I Fall In Love by Blaze featuring Sybil, which scraped into the chart at #91 in 2002.

Sybil has since gone on to work as a coach and program coordinator at a US college, whilst sporadically releasing singles. Her most recent single Together You And I – a cover of a 2011 Dolly Parton track, which was released in 2016, but sadly did not chart in the UK, despite it being as worthy as her earlier hits.

POP RESCUE RATING

  • POP RESCUE RATING: 2 / 5
  • 1990 UK CHART POSITION: #21
  • POP RESCUE COST: £2.00 from a Discogs.com seller.

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