Review: “Flame” by Flame (Vinyl, 1989)

Today’s POP RESCUE from obscurity, is the 1989 debut album Flame by American singer and actress Flame Braithwaite, known here by the mononym Flame. Will this album heat up the party, or will it be a blow out? Read on….

Flame Braithwaite - Flame (1989) album cover
Flame – Flame (1989) album

This 8 track LP opens with On The Strength, a duet with Tony Terry who had had minor success in the UK the previous year. This song is fantastically upbeat and has a new jack swing feel to it, a wonderful bass, and the vocal duelling works perfectly. It bounces along with ease, laden with catchy samples. It makes me imagine that this is the best Paula Abdul and Bobby Brown duet they never recorded. Sadly, 1989’s UK single-buying public disagreed, and the song failed to chart, but it’s a great start to the album, and the party breakdown towards the end suggests the feeling the album was aiming for.

One Way Lover follows this, and features Romeo JD on rap duties. You pretty instantly get a best of late-80s popular samples – including the wonderful sampled drum beat from Public Enemy’s Security Of The First World that would go on to be used by Madonna in her hit Justify My Love the following year. Romeo’s real name is Joseph Malloy, and he has 3 writer credits on this album. The chorus sounds good, but it’s definitely not as strong as On The Strength, but the song does give Flame a few chances to show off her vocal range nicely. This was the album’s lead single in the US.

Next up is Show And Tell which starts with a really nice beat. It’s a mid-tempo track with orchestra hits that I swear I had on my Yamaha keyboard. The style sounds a little dated now with all the synths and samples, but the saxophone solo is really nice. It’s a nice enough song, although ends rather abruptly.

Side One closes with Holiday, and no, it’s not that Madonna track. The sea laps the shore as some soft synths emerge. They’re here to lure us into a hearfelt ballad to close this first side. Flame’s vocals are soft and rich here, and she’s joined once again by Tony Terry who takes a back seat this time to provide some great harmonies. It’s a nice end to side one.

Side Two begins with Lifetime Groove which bursts this side open with much the same energy as On The Strength. Again, I’m reminded of Paula Abdul in style. It has a wonderful bass line and is loaded with synths and vocals. It’s a nice upbeat track and a good strong opening for the second half.

Next is Come And Get It and we’re deep into new jack swing territory – once again channeling some Bobby Brown in style. That’s set alongside Flame’s vocals which are strong and confident in their delivery – almost a little rockier, and she once again has Tony Terry on backing vocals. There’s a load of scratching here from King Chameek, which adds a burst of fresh energy into this song. It’s not quite as catchy as the two side openers, but it’s nice enough.

Following this is Satisfied, which at times makes me feel like a disco-inspired song, that’s been sped up a little. The percussion adds a nice layer to the song, alongside oodles of synths and more of those orchestra stabs. The tempo found me tapping my foot as I listened. I think that this should have been a single.

The album closes with The House Is Surrounded, and the house in question here is house music, although as with other late-80s tracks, an actual house is the topic of the song. There’s a lot more scratching throughout from King Chameek, some ‘police’ announcements, and sirens wailing. There’s an odd use of a sample of what I imagine is the sound of The Flintstones’ car skidding to a halt. After a slew of samples, perhaps some from On The Strength, you realise that there’s nothing new here from Flame, and that this track could really have been on anyone’s album. An actual Flame song would have been preferred, although the sudden ending justifies its placing at the end of the album.

Flame’s single ‘On The Strength’ with Tony Terry.

Verdict

Over all, this album is a great example of late-1980’s music – on the cusp of pop, new jack swing, and house music. As a result, it’s got a fresh sound (or at least when it was new), and there are lots of great moments from Flame’s lead vocals, Tony’s appearances, and the layers of percussion and synths.

The high points are clearly On The Strength, Lifetime Groove, and Satisfied, but at times the album does now feel a bit lost, meandering, and dated thanks to the heavy use of what would have been exciting sounds. The House Is Surrounded really should have been pushed off the album, and a bonafide Flame track added instead, and Flame sounded a bit buried in the mix of One Way Lover.

It’s great when it’s good, and a bit awkwardly dated when less so. With a couple of more fully formed songs, this album could have been a belter.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 3 / 5
  • UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart in the UK.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £4.00 from a Discogs.com seller.

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