Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown, is the 1987 second solo album Hearsay by American soul singer Alexander O’Neal. Was this album pure and simple, or should we Criticize it? Read on…
First things first – the CD sleeve shows just 9 tracks, but pop open the case and you realise that there’s 17 tracks – and then you realise that nearly every single track gets a preceding Intro track (confusingly named ‘Intro’). The album is a concept album, set during a house party, and you can hear the guests in each intro, with each song representing a different kind of guest. I’ll count these in with their main track. Anyway, let’s get this review started…
The album opens with (What Can I Say) To Make You Love Me, and this is the first of 8 tracks to have been written by the album’s producers James ‘Jimmy Jam’ Harris and Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Patti LaBelle etc). The track lulls you in as a slow ballad, but then suddenly bursts into a funky new jack swing track. Alexander’s vocals are slick and smooth, and he really gets to show off his power and range, over what is a really bright and upbeat track. The track reached #27 in that UK when it was released as the 5th single.
The titular track Hearsay follows this, and aside from the burst of vocals at the start, the track is a fairly mid-tempo number, singing about a gossip. It’s quite a mellow track, but there’s no shortfall of brilliant vocals from Alexander. The track received a remixed release in 1989, released after his Christmas album My Gift To You and single, but it stalled at #56 in the UK chart.
Next it’s The Lovers, which lifts the tempo a bit with lots of electric piano and backing vocals. Alexander again shows off his perfectly soulful vocals over a strong bass and beat track. It’s a simple song, but definitely a toe-tapper. This was the album’s 4th single, giving him a moderate hit at #28 in the UK charts.
An argument breaks out in the intro of Fake over a spilt drink, leading perfectly into the main track, and lead single, Fake, in which Alexander requests some ‘nasty bass’. The track was initially released in 1987 but stalled at #33 in the UK. It was remixed and re-released the following year, giving him a #16 hit. As is now clearly customary, the track has some irresistibly funky bass, and hard hitting beat. It works perfectly, and even with this album version, it’s a damn catchy track – and would not have sounded out of place of Michael Jackson‘s Bad album.
Criticize follows this – the album’s and his career’s biggest UK hit, and the only track here to not be written by Jam and Lewis. Instead G Johnson (aka Jellybean) and Alexander are the writers. Awkward. This is an absolute gem of a song, and I’ve believed this song to be utterly flawless since I first heard it on my old Brit Awards 1989 cassette (he was nominated as Best International Male Artist). Alexander’s vocal performance is perfect – making the soulful soaring vocals sound effortless alongside the incredibly funky bass. He’s joined Lisa Keith whose backing vocals really helps to lift the song even higher during the chorus.
Next is Never Knew Love Like This, which sees Alexander joined by his regular collaborator Cherrelle on lead vocals. The vocal switching between them works wonderfully. Her strong vocals sit perfectly alongside his, and it’s part teamwork and part rival, as the two sing back and forth to each other. The end result is an impressive and catchy track. Obligatory 80’s Saxophone makes a brief appearance too, again, kept neatly away from the pair as the song builds up and up. It gave the pair a #26 UK hit when it was released as the album’s third single.
That’s followed by Sunshine, which by contrast is a softer and slower track. Alexander ‘Ooh Woahs’ in the distance over a soft echoey beat. Eventually, his gentle love song vocals lead us into the verse. These vocals are rich and heartfelt throughout. Sadly, the track failed to repeat earlier success when released as the albums 8th and final single, and got stuck at #72 in the UK.
Crying Overtime is up next and we’re treated to another soulful ballad. Alexander’s vocals of course flow almost effortlessly but with great richness and tenderness. Finger clicks guide us through this sad little number, and over all it sounds wonderful. Whilst the song was the album’s 7th single, it doesn’t appear to have been released in the UK.
The album aptly closes with When The Party’s Over, but that leaves Alexander having got his girl alone, and so this song acts as the final chapter of the concept album. Here he sings to his love over a mid-tempo track. The backing vocals are perfect, and really add to the track. The track softly fades out as Alexander asks his girl to stay. Did she?
Over all, this album is an absolute masterpiece. Regardless of whether you’re conscious of the concept album approach, the album works perfectly on its own two feet.
There’s some absolutely amazingly funky sounds here – Criticize, Fake, and Never Knew Love Like This are the strongest tracks here, but there are none that feel out of place or that fall short.
That’s partly because Alexander’s vocal performance is utterly flawless, and he feels like he gives his all in every track, and thankfully each track seems to give him the space to do this – it’s uncluttered, with breathing room, and so damn funky.
Put it in your ears.
- POP RESCUE 2020 RATING: 5 / 5
- 1987 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #4, certified 3x Platinum by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: 49p from a Barnardos store.