Review: “Feeling Free” by Sydney Youngblood (CD, 1989)

Today’s Pop Rescue from an uncertain fate, is the 1989 debut album Feeling Free by American singer, songwriter, and actor Sydney Youngblood. Will this album make you feel Free, or should you Sit And Wait for a better one? Read on…

Sydney Youngblood - Feeling Free (1989) album
Sydney Youngblood – Feeling Free (1989) album

This 12 track CD opens with the titular track Feeling Free, a duet with Elaine Hudson. The track is swiftly off to a bouncy bright start with a percussive beat, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re about to get Whitney Houston. Instead, you get Elaine and she puts in a strong contrasting performance to Sydney, and she mostly owns the song, so it’s bit odd to have it here opening Sydney’s album. The synths here sound a little bit low-key at times, and I think they make the melody feel a little bit disjointed., but the song seems to find its path at the halfway mark. With a radio edit or remix, this could easily have been a great single for Elaine.

As soon as next track If Only I Could begins, it is instantly recognisable, but also strikingly musically similar to the previous song. Yes, the melody is different, but the instruments are all the same with the exception of some lovely acoustic guitars. Instead, we get a perfect performance from Sydney and the song flows effortlessly. Thankfully, that effortlessness also worked on the UK singles chart, with the track being rewarded with a #3 position.

The tempo drops, as Sydney whispers the song’s title repeatedly before meandering into the first verse of single I’d Rather Go Blind. This is a cover of the 1967 Etta James hit, and whilst Sydney does put in some really nice vocals, and some synths stab discretely like Enya trying to make her Orinoco Flow. The track keeps Sydney’s voice the focus of the song, and he does a great job. Sadly, this minimalistic song stumbled at #44 when released as the fifth single in the UK.

Then it’s single Sit And Wait which, like If Only I Could, is instantly recognisable from the moment it starts thanks to the wonderful piano riff. Sydney makes light work of this track – sounding wonderfully soulful thanks to some lower register notes to hit over this mid-tempo pop song. This gave Syd a #16 UK hit.

Kiss And Say Goodbye is next, beginning quite broodingly as Sydney tells you that it’s ‘got to be the saddest day of my life‘ over a cheap synth. This stops, and gives over to a full finger snap Barber Shop Quartet type of song. This is a cover of The Manhattans’ 1976 track, but Sydney really embraces the song and his vocal range and power really shines here backed with lots of ‘bom-duh-bom’ vocal low notes. It works spectacularly, and remains pretty loyal to The Manhattans version, whilst also giving it an extra bonus level of power.

That’s followed by lead single Ain’t No Sunshine, a cover of the Bill Withers classic, but opening like some kind of new jack swing track that could be at ease on the Bobby Brown Don’t Be Cruel album. Bizarrely, the video for it (below) has a fly added to it, which is really annoying as it buzzes throughout as the cast occasionally strike at it. I have no idea why they bothered to add it. Whilst this is unquestionably a classic track, this version sounds a bit clunky and dated with its choice of instruments. There’s also a sudden increase in sound in levels as the track comes towards its conclusion. It’s just a dull track, and the UK public agreed, as it flopped at #78.

I’m Your Lover follows that with what sounds like ‘Listen bastard, don’t be so serious’. This track is a contrast to the previous one, with dramatic synth brass bursts, over a racing dance beat, and a synth lead that sounds like a disco track. Sydney gets to throw his vocal range around as much as the piano does. This track doesn’t really sound like Sydney with a lot of high tempo high note singing, and he also almost gets a rap to perform. It’s energetic, unlike anything else here so far, but feels like it would be more suited to a boy band.

Next up is Not Just A Lover But A Friend, opening with piano, and little sounds that remind me of a dozen 80’s pop songs that I can’t quite pin point. This track sounds really 80s musically and vocally, and it meanders around along a steady repetitive bass synth line. There’s some nice instrumental moments scattered throughout, but the song doesn’t feel very drawn together, and more like a collection of jammed sounds.

That’s followed by Congratulations, the album’s second single. Instantly, you can hear him singing over the often-used drum sample from Ashley’s Roachclip by The Soul Searchers (perhaps most memorably used in Set Adrift On Memory Bliss by PM Dawn). The track kind of plods over the top of this iconic beat, and takes until about the middle to find its flow. The lack of credits on this CD’s artwork fails to reveal whether there’s some other vocalists here, but someone attempts another rap, a bit of skat, before returning to sounding a bit like a sleepy New Kids On The Block. The single failed to chart.

Following that is Could It Be (I’m In Love) which has a heartfelt Sydney sounding somewhat like Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall over the top of a gentle shuffling beat. There’s a really nice little sampled guitar riff section that acts as a nice interlude between the verses. Acoustic guitars with a ton of echo lead us through the mid section before being halted by some funky wah, and a return to the loop. Whilst the song sounds nice, it does feel quite repetitive without building.

That Was Yesterday is next is quite a good upbeat track, and sounds much fuller formed than some of the earlier tracks here with plenty of musical layers. The chorus works well, but there’s clearly a lot of pride in the keyboards here, and rightly so. It results in a nice track – again the acoustic guitar shines alongside the synths. Sydney’s vocals are used sparingly here.

The album closes with Good Times Bad Times which bursts open with some nice 80’s beats, synths, and brass riffs. A thick bass steps in as Sydney takes the microphone with some uplifting vocals on how to find justice for the world and to overcome these ‘bad times’. If you don’t feel emotionally pumped by the time this little closing song ends, then perhaps go listen to The Reynolds Girls.

Sydney Youngblood’s lead single ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ (1988).

Verdict

Over all, this album is a real mixture of sounds.

The huge hits If Only I Could and Sit And Wait really shine here with minimum effort from the moment they begin. Other songs like I’m Your Lover really help this album to shine, and Kiss And Say Goodbye helps the album shine but for wholly different reasons as a perfect showcase of Sydney’s vocal talent.

Sadly, some of the other tracks, most notably Congratulations and Not Just A Lover But A Friend just stumble about and never really find their melodies.

If you’ve been attracted to this album because of the hits If Only I Could and Sit And Wait, then you’re probably going to be in for a surprise, as the latter half of the album feels somewhat mediocre or stylistically disjointed.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2022 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1989 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #23, certified Gold by the BPI.
  • POP RESCUE COST: 50p from an RSPCA store.

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