Hearsay – Alexander O’Neal (1987)



“Hearsay” is the second studio album released by American Soul singer Alexander O’Neal.

This album was the biggest of his career and helped him find success in the UK as well as in his own country.

I was brought up in a household that played a lot of soul music and my Father would play this album constantly. I would consider “Hearsay” the album I know inside out and i’d be hard pressed to find an album I was more familiar with.

The album for the most part follows a story which is prompted by the intro and interludes with the setting being a party and each of the songs are a response to what has transpired in those skits.

“Hearsay” is about love and the difficulties that can come about when in a relationship. Whilst Alexander O’Neal was about at the time of Luther Vandross and Freddie Jackson his music is very different in terms of lyrical content.

All the songs on the album apart from “Critcize” were written and produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who would be the ones who turned Janet Jackson from Michael’s little sister to one of the biggest female artists in the world.

Some of the songs such as “Fake” “Critcise” and the title track are not smalchy love songs. They are defiant, almost angry songs where O’Neal delivers in an aggrieved tone.

The album’s intro kicks the album off at a party where Alexander O’Neal is letting everyone know that this is his night and everyone has to party.

“What Can I Say (to make you love me)” starts with the line

“No I didn’t write the book on love, but I tried my best to read it everyday”

I like this line because it sets the tone not only for the song but for the album. It may be an album about relationships and the challenges that we can all go through but it doesn’t offer any real answers because most of the time there isn’t any.

This first track is a superb opener and sets that part atmosphere it has wanted to create.

The next skit is a conversation between a woman Alexander O’Neal is seeing and her friend who is essentially shit stirring by telling her that Alex has been seeing someone else.

“Hearsay” sees Alex tell this woman that it is all rubbish and rumour doesn’t mean it is fact.

“Hearsay, it’s nothing by Hearsay. Because a lie’s not the truth, unless you believe it”.

The vocal from O’Neal is exceptional on this song. The production is very 80’s in its sound and is a little repetitive throughout this track but this song is really what the album is all about. It’s Alexander O’Neal justifying himself but at the same time given the impression that he will not stand for all the crap he is getting.

“The Lovers” comes straight in after “Hearsay”. This is an uplifting mid tempo soul stomper with the content simply being about how Love and being in love is what wins every time.

“You must abide by the golden rule
Do unto others as they do unto you
‘Coz what goes around comes around
Here what I see
Why look tomorrow if you see it today?”

There is a line in the song which see’s O’Neal say “Don’t let people interfere” which suggests to me that there is an real axe to grind in the writing from Jam and Lewis about people outside the two in a relationship making things difficult and perhaps altering the course of a couple’s future together.

“Fake” is one of the big tracks on the album. It’s big, its funky and its quite funny too.

The skit before the song kicks in sees a girl spill drink on a gentleman but instead of a apologising she makes out that it is his fault and that she will go and get her friend Alex who will throw him out.

“Fake” is simply a dressing down of a lady. It’s a character assassination about a woman and that every bit of her being is just false.

You had brown eyes
but now they’re blue
Those false eyelashes that you’re wearin’ too.
In bed this morning you called me CIyde
Alex is the name that I go by!
If women could be counterfeit
then you’d be it.

O’Neal has a bit of grit to his voice on this song which really sets him aside from  so many of the other silky soul singers of the time. On his self titled debut album he proved he could excel in this area with tracks such as “If You Were Here Tonight” but it seems that there was a conscious decision to move away from a standard soul singer and give him a little more edge.

The edge isn’t a hip hop edge although if this album had been released five years after I am sure that would have been incorporated.

“Hearsay’s” most popular song is without a doubt “Criticize”. This is the biggest hit of O’Neal’s career and was the only track on the album he had a hand in writing.

The skit before the track kicks in sets the scene with O’Neal being told by his girlfriend that everything he is doing his wrong from his clothes to his hair.

“Criticize” see’s prominent drums kick the track off with O’Neal biting back and telling this woman that he is fed up.

Don’t criticize my friends
Criticize my ideas
Don’t criticize my life style
I’m fed up cause all you wanna do is criticize

“Critcize” is such a great track because it doesn’t follow the usual soul music formula. The song for me isn’t even a soul song and whilst that might offend the Soul music fans that O’Neal has I don’t mean that as a slant on him or the track but the opposite as “Critcize” transcend the  familiar genre and rises up as a piece of angry pop/rock/r&b.

As I am listening to this song on Vinyl the album will of course be in two parts. But with “Hearsay” it is clear that this was very much the intention.

On O’Neal debut there was a theme of love and relationships. On the second half of “Hearsay” we get a lot of the same with O’Neal kicking this half of the album off with a duet with singer Cherrelle.

Also produced by Jam & Lewis we see Cherrelle team up with O’Neal for the third time having collaborated with him on the hit “Saturday Love” from her album “High Priority” and on his debut where she provided vocals on the slightly seedy “Innocent”.

“Never Knew Love Like This” is a song structured vocally like those old Motown classics and I think both Cherrelle and O’Neal had themselves down as similar to those Marvin and Tammi style collaborations.

Vocally O’Neal is stunning on this track. He shows off his range and uses this to great effect to convey the lyrics which are simply about a couple explaining how the love they are in currently is like nothing else.

“Sunshine” is the type of song that O’Neal can do as well as any of his contemporaries. This slightly cheesy ballad is delivered perfectly and is a wonderfully produced piece of music from Jam & Lewis.

Every aspect of O’Neal’s voice is displayed on this track and I cannot recall hearing another track by him in his entire career which displayed what a weapon of a vocal he possess.

“Crying Overtime” is a song I prefer to “Sunshine” only because whilst it’s about a similar thing about not being able to live without someone I feel its slightly bulkier in it’s message which is our protagonist convinced that the pain he is feeling is far worse than for the person he was in a relationship with.

Before the album’s final track we have our last skit which takes us back to the party where Alexander is letting people know that the party is over and it’s time for the last dance. He says that everyone has to go but not this girl who he is going to have the last dance with.

“When The Party’s Over” lyrically continues from that moment as he is singing directly at this girl. It’s a beautiful track yet musically is so simple with the drum machine and bass playing together with simple beat.

I keep mentioning it but vocally O’Neal is utterly divine. The production and his voice go hand in hand – it’s just a beautiful sound.

“Hearsay” is a diverse album musically whilst it’s theme ranges from anger to love in a matter of moments. But even in the angry songs you can’t help feeling that this anger is coming from a place of love.


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