Soul & R&B vocalist Alexander O’Neal released his debut self titled album in 1985 which would begin his reign as one of the most significant male vocalists on the soul music scene during the 1980’s.
Produced by hit makers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis this was the album that introduced O’Neal to the world with some slow quiet storm jams and some more Prince influenced funk numbers.
Whilst not as well rounded as the follow up album “Hearsay” and without as many radio friendly hits O’Neal crafted an album which is a vocal masterclass and a showcase.
The first track is “A Broken Heart Can Mend”. Whilst direct in it’s title and perhaps a little melodramatic O’Neal is quite brilliant on a track which has such a laid back groove and lovely baseline.
O’Neal sings about coming back into the dating scene after a hard break up. The song is positive in it’s message that things can get better and you can move on and love again. Again it is melodramatic but it’s a stellar song.
“If You Were Here Tonight” is the second track on this 7 track album. It’s over 6 minutes long but I would argue that it isn’t long enough. O’Neal never sounded better on a song as he did on this. I would put this song up there with any soul song ever released. The fact that it’s from the 1980’s will see many old Soul boys scoff but the song is beautiful and is sung to absolute perfection.
Girl you know how much I care
It’s not the way I planned it no
If you could only know my feelings
You would know how much I do believe
Oddly despite so many lyrics there is no rhyme in the entire song. It is one of three songs on the album written by former ‘Time’ keyboard player Monte Moir.
The drum machine pounds through the entire song with the keyboard and guitar rifts on repeat throughout the track. The song feels full and sets a mood. But again I must point out that the vocal display from O’Neal is what makes the song so damn good.
“Do You Wanna Like I Do” is similar in it’s production style to “If You Were Here Tonight”. The drum loop is evident again with the keyboard adding a little bit more to the instrumental framework.
O’Neal sings with a bit more of a higher resister on this exquisite track. It’s so damn so soulful and a wonderful sound. The song written by Moir talks about getting back with someone and asking them if they would like to get back to where they belong.
“Look At Us Now” is equally pretty in it’s arrangement but there is a perhaps more cheesy element to it’s sound as it is driven by a saxophone which in modern day music hasn’t really translated well into modern pop music. Because of this the song can come across quite dated and not in a synth pop retro way.
Maybe I am being too harsh but the use of the sax is just a little too smooth for my ears. Thankfully O’Neal still kills it with his vocal performance as he talks to the woman he is n a relationship with about their current status and reflecting on how they have been and where they are going. It’s about strength in relationships and how he feels that continuing to try is something they owe to each other.
The main discrepancy with this album is that the second half sounds like it is another set altogether. The love songs and smooth tracks we have heard thus far are replaced in dramatic fashion with track 5 (the first track on the second half of the vinyl” “Innocent”/”Alex 9000″/”Innocent II”.
Alexander O’Neal was to be the original vocalist in the group created by Prince “The Time”. He never got as far to make any songs with them due to disagreements with Prince about one thing or another. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis were members of that band and when they left and went on to be the super producers they later became they went back to Alexander O’Neal and gave him most of his big hits.
With “Innocent” this is straight out of ‘The Time’. This is a synth rock funk song that O’Neal strangely sounds so comfortable on. As a long time fan of Alexander O’Neal it has always irked me that he has been pegged into the generic soul man who sings innocent songs (excuse the pun) about love and sweet things as I believe he is really a raunchy funkster more suited to the style of Rick James or even James Brown.
“Innocent” is quite explicit. It’s lyrics are O’Neal singing to a girl (which happens to be label mate Cherrelle who sings vocals on this song) about him desiring her because she is innocent. It’s not revealed how old she is but if you watch the music video the song takes on a new level of creepiness.
He is so forward in this song he actually sings the lyric
“Oh girl, why did you slap me?”
But I have to say I adore this song. I also love it’s longevity. The song goes on for over 10 minutes but it’s relentless funkiness is something I love to turn up and enjoy.
It’s such a departure from the previous track “Look At Us Now”. It seems to make no sense in it’s musical style or lyrical content to have such songs following each other but what it does it allows O’Neal to branch out.
What the following track does is merge both smooth Alexander O’Neal and Funk Alexander O’Neal together with the wonderful “Whats Missing”.
This has be one of the best songs O’Neal ever made. It’s got that funk edge but it’s just a simple love song where O’Neal is confused to why his relationship is breaking down.
Similar to on “Do You Wanna Like I Do” he is the one trying to mend the relationship and ensure that it doesn’t fall apart. He seems unwilling to give up even though by his own admission the love seems to have gone.
‘Cause we used to have good love but now it’s gone
So girl, let’s try find out
A highlight of this track is the bridge where O’Neal takes a breath and sings relentlessly. It’s a well constructed track and highly enjoyable.
The album finishes with “You Were Meant To Be My Lady (Not My Girl)”. Yet again O’Neal delivers and it’s another track I think is fantastic although it sounds very out of place on this set.
It’s hard to believe that the first four tracks on this album were created at the same time as this song as it’s the most contemporary sounding song on the set and has stood the test of time well.
The song leans itself more towards the R&B side of O’Neal’s music but retains the funk edge that he seems very comfortable with. This song has the least cross over appeal but I think that is important to have on the album as he is staying closer to his musical roots and not pushing to appease all aspects of the pop music word.
It’s a song about meeting someone that you previously liked but realising that you were both not mature enough to have the relationship then but that has now changed.
Whilst the scale of O’Neal’s music would increase as Jam & Lewis took him to new heights with the follow up album “Hearsay” this debut album is all killer and no filler. There is not one bad song on the entire album.
Having just given a rating of 10 in my previous review I am reluctant to it again but quite simply this album is magnificent.