Review: “Head Over Heels” by Paula Abdul (CD, 1995)

Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate uncertain, is the 1995 3rd studio album Head Over Heels by American singer and songwriter, and talent show judge, Paula Abdul. Will this album make you do cartwheels, or will it give you a headache? Read on…

Paula Abdul - Head Over Heels (1995) album cover
Paula Abdul – Head Over Heels (1995) album

The album opens with the slick beats of Crazy Cool. This is a mid-tempo smooth R&B track. Paula’s vocals really shine here, and almost purr along with ease, flanked by some really nice backing vocals. It’s less crazy but pretty cool start to the album, with some funky guitar work scattered throughout. Sadly when released as the album’s second single, it didn’t chart in the UK.

Next up is lead single My Love Is For Real, which features Israeli singer Ofra Haza. It opens with a beautiful Middle Eastern and Indian sound to it courtesy of the vocals and use of sitar and tamboura. A pop beat and thick bass joins in, and Paula’s vocals sit in a lower sultry register, and feel highly reminiscent of something you’d find on Madonna’s Bedtime Stories album from the previous year. Despite its rich sound, it stalled at #28 in the UK

This is followed by the album’s third and final single Ain’t Never Gonna Give You Up, which opens with quite a funky saxophone and brass stabs that give it a real vintage sound. This track features backing vocals from what was the boy-band-of-the-moment Color Me Badd. It’s not quite Take That featuring Lulu, but it is a catchy and bouncy track. Paula’s and Color Me Badd put in a good performance, even if Paula’s vocals feel a bit buried in the mix here. Sadly it didn’t touch the UK charts.

Love Don’t Come Easy is next, continuing the vintage brass is-it-a-sample sound, that gives way to a funky R&B up-tempo song. Paula sounds like she’s in her element and having lots of fun here, sounding perhaps a little reminiscent to her Straight Up debut. It’s quite a catchy track in the chorus, although the verses are a little bit cluttered. The track stood alongside Ain’t Never Gonna Give You Up as its b-side – which explains the musical similarity.

Then it’s If I Were Your Girl, a track that was initially intended to be the album’s fourth and final single, but got canned after poor chart performance of the previous ones. That aside, this is a bass-heavy plodding ballad. The track allows Paula to show off the rich tenderness of her vocals, and she’s thankfully given plenty of space to shine. It’s a really nice song, and it’s a shame that it didn’t get a single release.

Now it’s time for some Sexy Thoughts, no, I mean that’s the name of the next song. The song bursts open with a thudding bass drum, racing hi-hats, and a couple of repeated synth notes that sounds like an owl that’s got stuck in screech mode. Paula gets to show off her sultry vocals again though, pitched alongside a house piano and a gurgling synth, and intermittent percussion. ‘All you gotta do, is be a little sexy‘ she reminds us, and perhaps this track just about succeeds in that.

That’s followed by The Choice Is Yours, a b-side to Crazy Cool. This gives us plenty of vocal samples, another vintage audio sound complete with vinyl crackle, and thick bass, as Paula makes light work of the vocals over the top. The song grooves along effortlessly and unhurriedly, but the chorus feels like it repeats just a few too many times in its 4m 48s – probably could have lost a minute and it would have been greater.

Those crackly old uncredited vintage jazz record sample sounds return throughout this song, and even what sounds like sleigh bells turn up for Ho-Down. This is Paula Abdul singing at her fastest yet. There are funky beats all over the place, and it’s hard to comprehend quite what Paula is actually singing – it just sounds great, even slightly Cypress Hill.

Next is Under The Influence, which seems to drop us into some kind of psychedelic introduction that’s channeling The Beatles, before switching over to a bright up-beat pop song. There are some wonderful backing vocals courtesy of The Wild Pair, who previously appeared alongside Paula as her feline cartoon character companion in Opposites Attract hit of 1989. The result is a really great song – Paula and The Wild Pair sound once again like a perfect combination.

Piano leads us into I Never Knew It, and for a moment I thought that it was opening with ABBA‘s hit S.O.S. Actually, this is a mid-tempo soft pop song – which Paula delivers with great ease, whilst bathed in some really nice light guitars and backing vocals – think of an early Eternal album track.

Following that is Get Your Groove On – and this has a wonderful dance feel to it, thank to the thumping bass drum and hi-hats, and bass synth. Again the funky brass sounds are lurking here, but they sit in the background, and the bass really takes over in the latter half of the track to really thrust the groove forwards. Instead, Paula’s vocals sit here powerful and in control of the track. It’s quite a nice song and probably could have fared well as a single.

That’s then followed by Missing You, which by contrast is a very slow ballad, with some wonderful sounding strings that compliment Paula’s heartfelt and reflective vocals. The track builds slowly and expertly, resulting in a really beautiful song.

It’s All About To Feel Good is next and this lifts the tempo and groove back up again. A fat synth bass gurgles along through the simple beat. Paula’s vocals cut through it perfectly, and stylistically a bit like her Opposites Attract sound.

The album closes with Cry For Me, which throws us another ballad, with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra behind her. It’s a bit of a plodder, and a completely textbook American female ballad. This is the only song to sound out of place on this album, with Paula’s vocals duelling against strings and soaring backing vocals – it sounds just a bit crowded.

Paula Abdul’s lead single ‘My Love Is For Real’.

Verdict

Over all, this album is to Paula Abdul what Bedtime Stories was to Madonna.

The production is slick, R&B flavoured, and a nice warm collection of cooly swaggering songs. The regular use of old jazz sample styles (it’s unclear from the sleeve notes if they are samples, originals, or interpolations) in several tracks, amongst the well crafted songs, makes this a great album. The inclusion of Color Me Badd and The Wild Pair works really well.

Highlights are clearly Ain’t Never Gonna Give You Up, Under The Influence, and Missing You, but there’s plenty of excellent songs here too alongside singles Crazy Cool and My Love Is For Real. The lower points, I feel are Cry For Me (which could have been left off), Love Don’t Come Easy and I Never Knew It, both of which just feel weaker.

This is an album that has dated well, whilst also showing off Paula perfectly as more than just a woman who danced with a cartoon cat in the 1980s, and it helps explain why Paula deserves her place on so many talent show judging panels despite only ever (or at least until Feb 2022) having 3 UK top 10 singles.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 4 / 5
  • 1995 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #61
  • POP RESCUE COST: £2.98 from an eBay seller.

Based on all of the Paula Abdul albums we have reviewed, we can calculate her average album score as 3.33 out of 5.

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