Artist: Alexander O'Neil
This is one record that seems to have been with me all my life, and probably influenced my tastes far more than I ever initially realised. The cassette (and later CD) was constantly played in the car and round the house by my parents as a child (it was released when I was 3) and years later it would often be my go-to 'walking home at 3am full of soppy teen angst’ album on my iPod. (I had issues! ) Back then I didn't really know WHY I liked it, or who was even involved, but something about this set of songs never got old to me. Today Ive come to hold this up as a near-perfect album, and was one of the first records I simply needed in my collection when I started building up my 'essentials’. I mean even the most recognised rnb albums of all time have at least one duff ballad on there - hello MJ - but this is wall to wall killer. As a massive Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis fanboy, this set contains so many of their best songs. (Save for a few Cherrelle and Janet tracks, their songs for Alex almost seemed to be their most soulful) Every track is incredibly written and immaculately produced, with O’Neal’s vocals a genuine colossal force. It's the perfect match of both producer and vocalist at the peak of their powers. (And for all their work with Janet gets most of their acclaim, I still think these tracks, along with their work on Alex’s debut, put most of those in the shade.) Uptempo - we've got you covered from the jump - 'What Can I Say To Make You Love Me' is quintessential Minneapolis Sound goodness with a synth riff so infectious you'll be humming it for days. Not to mention bonafied classic 'Criticize’, one of the finest pop songs ever written. Mid tempos are sewn up with soulful bangers like the title track and goosebump inducing 'The Lovers’ and then the back half takes care of the slow jams with the beautiful 'Sunshine’ and 'When The Party's Over’. What other single album can boast such an embarrassment of brilliant soul songs? Its like a Greatest Hits album. Jam, Lewis (and Jellybean Johnson) deliver a true crystallisation of all that makes them legends across these tracks. And what about the man himself, Alex O’Neal? Well he's certainly a curious character in the footnotes of rnb history! He doesn't particularly fit the bill of the smooth 80s heartthrob (a broad, sweaty dude who never looked remotely comfortable in any of his videos) but his image of this big, sensitive soul man certainly must have struck a chord with the masses at the time. And those vocals, man are those vocals PHENOMENAL. I don't think any other vocalist can compare to the sheer muscle and range shown here. Make no mistake Alex’s vocals are manly as hell, with a grit and conviction that suits tracks like 'Fake’ perfectly, but he also hits that upper register so smoothly too, with some passionate vocal runs that still blow my mind. The fact that his vocals haven't exactly 'held up’ over the years make this brief period even more special. I'd actually compare him to K-Ci and JoJo from Jodeci in that regard. (And another sad example of drugs and the 'excess of fame’ taking their toll on a spectacular talent) Just listening to the album again now in order to write this. I'm amazed at how much this album holds up to repeated listens, I don't think I'll ever get tired of any of these songs which is a huge testament to the songwriting. I think this album also served as the blueprint for everything I look for in music these days too. Strong hooks, huge passionate vocals, rich chunky production and ridiculously funky grooves. I love a lot of 80s funk and 90s New Jack swing and rnb for the same reasons and that glossy Jam and Lewis synth and drum machine sound will never date. The dance tracks still tear up dancefloors (Imagine my joy hearing 'Fake’ in Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode) and the ballads just have indefinable quality to them that set them apart from other 80s slow jams of the time. Rnb, pop, funk, soul - it's all here and has never sounded better!