Category Archives: New Edition/ Various artists

New Edition – Heart Break

New Edition
Heart Break
June 20, 1988
MCA RecordsUMG
075/100
New Edition - Heart Break
1. Introduction // 2. That’s the Way We’re Livin’ // 3. Where It All Started // 4. If It Isn’t Love // 5. Skit #1 // 6. N.E. Heart Break // 7. Crucial // 8. Skit #2 // 9. You’re Not My Kind of Girl // 10. Superlady // 11. Can You Stand the Rain // 12. Competition // 13. Skit #3 // 14. I’m Comin’ Home // 15, Boys to Men

When Bobby Brown kicked himself out of New Edition he took their collective nutsack with him if Under the Blue Moon and King of Stage were indicative.
In the mean time Johnny Gill’s career wasn’t really going places despite evident talent. His first two solo-albums and the collaborative album with Stacey Lattisaw hadn’t made him the star Cotillon Records thought he was when they signed him and I imagine that the label quietly released him from his contractual obligations, as is the way with record labels and unsuccesful artists. The label by the way didn’t fail at getting  Gill to the top of the charts for lack of trying by the way, most acts don’t get three strikes at success. They tend to get dropped immediately when their debuts tank.
I’m not sure how Ralph, Ronnie, Ricky and Mike met Johnny but the music industry is a small world and given that they had met one can just see five lightbulbs pop up over the boys heads. NE was missing something and Johnny was all unfulfilled (and unemployed) potential. Why wouldn’t he join the group?

This album was released on the exact same day as Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel. That’s some serious marketing genius from whoever it was at MCA Records, the label on which both albums were released, that got to make that decision. In 1986 Bobby Brown split from New Edition very tumultuously and very pubically creating a feud between the singer and his former group. That feud had pretty much ended and become a healthy form of competition when New Edition and Bobby Brown were releasing Don’t Be Cruel and Heart Break. Apparently the guys weren’t that immature. And considering the fact that they were old friends who had been through a lot together after all and more importantly both parties had remained commercially successful in music following the split it wasn’t too difficult for them to reconcile. No hard feelings. But for many fans New Edition vs. Bobby Brown was still very much a thing. So when the fans got to the record store and saw these albums fresh on the shelf they felt more compelled to pick at least one of the two albums up to support the party they felt was right in the messy split, which pushed the sales figures of both albums up. Kanye and Fifty Cent pulled a similar marketing shenanigan in 2007. It always works to make an audience have the idea they have power over proceedings and have a real choice in matters. It is the multi million dollar equivalent of putting two tip jars on a bar with Justin Bieber and Chuck Norris names on them and letting customers decide who they like better by putting their tip in the jar with the person of their choice. The entire success of reality tv. talent concept shows like Pop Idol or The Voice on which the next pop idol is being chosen by viewers voting is also based on this idea of making the audience feel like they’re involved in this shit. If only that idea worked better for politics and getting people to actually vote for that shit, right?

In the mean time the world of contemporary R&B was changing around them. Guy had incorporated some hip-hop elements into the sound of traditional soul music to mass success. So Naranda Michael Walden, Ray Parker jr. and Freddie Perren weren’t called in for their services. Unfortunately the guys couldn’t get any Teddy beats because he was busy hanging out with frienemy Bob making his prerogative sound good.
So in stead they reached out to production team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who had spent ’86 and ’87 helping Michael’s little sister succesfully transitioning into musical adulthood to see if they could do the same for the new edition of New Edition. Truth be told Jam and Lewis didn’t change that much about New Edition’s sound. The biggest difference between the sound of Heart Break and any of their previous albums is that New Edition sounds like a group of adults rather than a pack of young boys, which is because by ’88 they were aged around twenty and because the addition of Johnny Gill meant that they collectively sounded older by default since that guy has had the voice of a singer aged thirty since he was fifteen.In stead of racking up second rate Teddy Riley beats Jam & Lewis mostly create a bunch of lush compositions that build on the strengths of the group but sounded less sunny than their previous work and really sounds like nothing more or less than the logical next step after 1985’s All For Love and Gill’s sophomore solo album Chemistry of the same year.

Tresvant, the previously undisputed alpha male of the group lets go of the microphone more often than he previously did and not only in favour of new kid on the block Johnny (perhaps he was afraid of another walk out by a member if business proceded as usual.) but also on occasion to perpetual third in command Ricky Bell, and because of that the group sounds a lot more like a group.
Gill and Tresvant’s voices sound very well together because they’re completely different. Johnny has a chocolaty rich baritone comparable to Luther Vandross’ while Ralph’s voice sounds like Michael Jackson airy tenor, forming a nice contrast. This can be heard at work best on Can You Stand the Rain. The addition of Gill also created a new harmony in the group’s backing vocals which can be peeped on You’re Not My Kind of Girl. Of the remaining three only Ricky Bell pops up in a lead singing capacity on occasion. The rest isn’t in the forefront enough to leave much of an impression, which considering the actual raps heard on Bell Biv Devoe records may very well be for the better. Speaking of rap, not much of that going on on this album. Guess Bobby was the only the hip-hop enthousiast of the group with any influence.

Besides the Jam & Lewis tracks NE slipped two songs on here they produced themselves with Whitney Houston producer and the Time band-member (with among others Jam & Lewis and unofficially Prince) Jellybean Benitez. To their credit these instrumentals don’t sound any less good than the others songs.

There’s a fair share of hit songs and it’s all good stuff. If It Isn’t Love and You’re Not My Kind of Girl are some of those cute little concept songs that NE succesfully took to the charts previously with the likes of Cool It Now and Count Me Out with Tresvant questioning a relationship problem and discussing the matter with the other guys. N.E. Heartbreak is the most hip-hop thing on here and it proves that Ronnie, Ricky, Michael, Ralph and Johnny could rock that swingbeat almost as well as Bobby.
Crucial is sweet and bouncy enough to deserve its hit-status and all is pretty well. The very best thing on here however is hands down Can You Stand the Rain, a quiet storm classic if ever there was one with the lead being passed back-and-forth between Tresvant and Gill and Ricky Bell getting some shine too. It is the most convincing argument in favour of New Edition sans Brown with Gill. It is difficult imagining the NE of old doing this record at all, let alone doing it justice.
Competition also deserves an honourable mention because it has Ralph and Ricky lamenting the split with Bobby, although Tresvant, the writer of the song, could’ve chosen more elaborate wording because it could just as easily be interpreted as an anti-war or even an anti-capitalism song, which contemporary R&B just isn’t a suitable medium for (Workers of the world unite, in front of the fireplace while New Edition gets in your pants).
Boys to Men, the album closer, which has Gill on leads inspired another R&B group to change its name and reach for the stars, eventually ending up making it big under NE member Michael Bivins’ managment (guess which one) and is also notable for the fact that Gill, who thought of it as too childish for his tastes to completely overperform parts of it out of protest. Despite his attempts to fuck it up is was still well recieved by critics so that’s some talented singer problem right there.
The rest of the songs are well meaning R&B-fluff, a little bland on occasion, but never off-puttingly so.

If Under the Blue Moon raised questions of New Edition’s relevance without Brown’s swagger keeping things interesting Heart Break makes it very clear that New Edition, with the addition of Gill, still had a reason for existence, and a moderately new, fresh and more classy, mature artistic direction. For my money Brown had the better, more interesting album with Don’t Be Cruel (and contemporary music buying audiences thought so too since Cruel sold about four times as many copies as Heart Break did) but Heart Break sold two million, which isn’t bad, and it inspired a succesful concert tour which had Al B. Sure! and Brown on it as opening acts (which made it okay for Bobby fans to buy Heart Break and for Ralph-fans to pick up Don’t Be Cruel, clever boys).
Following Heart Break the guys split up with succesful albums coming from Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant and unexpectedly the rump-group Bell Biv Devoe, which consisted of Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ron Devoe. With the solo-success of its members for a while seemed like New Edition was history for good. Until Ralph, Johnny, Bobby and BBD each dropped an album that was disappointingly saleswise and they reunited New Edition as a sextet with both Gill and Brown included for an album in ’96, that was. Look out for all those albums being reviewed on the site sooner than later.
For now: Heart Break is a pretty good late ’80s R&B album that you would do well to check out.

Best tracks
If It Isn’t Love
N.E. Heartbreak
Crucial
You’re Not My Kind of Girl
Can You Stand the Rain
Boys to Men

Recommendations
Buy this album.


New Edition – Under the Blue Moon

New Edition
Under the Blue Moon
October 10, 1986
MCA RecordsUMG
060/100
(Photo: MCA Records)
1. Earth Angel // 2. A Million to One // 3. Duke of Earl // 4. (Hey There) Lonely Girl // 5. A Thousand Miles Away // 6. What’s Your Name // 7. Tears on My Pillow (feat. Little Anthony) // 8. Blue Moon // 9. Since I Don’t Have You // 10. Bring Back the Memories

Somewhere between the release of All For Love and the recording of this album the bad boy of the group Bobby Brown left New Edition semi-volontarily to pursue a solo-career; He was allegedly voted out by the other members. What does one do after essentially severing one’s own testicles? If you’re a musical entity then recording the most delicate album of your career would be a plausible answer. And with New Edition you would be entirely correct for assuming that this is what they did. The quartet incarnation of NE had scored a hit single with Earth Angel, a cover of a seminal ’50s doo-wop hit off the Karate Kid soundtrack, so MCA commissioned a full album of 1950s and ’60s R&B standards filtred through the minds, bodies, souls and voices of Ronnie, Ricky, Mike and Ralph, as well as the mid-’80s productions of Freddie Perren. The results are both overly cotton candy sweet and sticky and sort of visionary: R&B artists would record this sort of retro cover-songs and cover-albums more and more often as a reaction to New Jack Swing’s modernist coupe d’état that would be instigated by among others – ironically enough – former NE member Bobby Brown some two years from this album’s release.

What keeps this love boat from going the way of the Titanic is the fact that this album is kept brief enough not to irritate, just over half an hour to be exact. This leaves the impression that Under the Blue Moon was recorded as a quick filler album  to show the fans that yes NE was alive and well without Bobby Brown, thank you very much, and that’s probably because it is. Without any defiance to speak of that is a shitty artistic statement if ever there were one. And the closest thing to defiance that the boys do on here is invite Little Anthony of seminal Doo Wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials to harmonise with them on Tears on My Pillow as a sort of audition for Bobby’s replacement without so much as explicitly stating the fact (History teaches us that he didn’t make it…), guess Bobby took all the defiance with him.

Still New Edition work well enough here as a blend of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the Platters, and lead singer Tresvant gets to flex his voice and show his range a little bit, which gives him some more artistic credibility than he had before, as does Ricky Bell with his cover of (Hey There) Lonely Girl. But that’s hardly enough to make this a must-listen. After all competent singing of cover versions of songs that have been performed in a similar vein elsewhere, but better, are often as grating as terrible music making (word to the Voice and similar-minded shows), and this is exactly what’s on display on this album for the most part.

The only exceptions to this are a banging up-tempo version of Blue Moon, the hit version of Earth Angel – probably because they were just trying something new when they recorded the song rather than churning out R&B standard #528 as they did with most other songs on here – and the only original song Bring Back the Memories whose title doubles as the album’s mission statement. These songs are bright with the youthful freshness that made the boys from Boston a force to be reckoned with in the first place.

The rest however is only of interest to collectors of everything NE, your sixty seven year old aunt and/or hardcore doo-wopsters who insist on having heard every version of Since I Don’t Have You that’s there to be heard.

Best tracks
Earth Angel
Blue Moon
Bring Back the Memories

Recommendations
Don’t bother. While this isn’t a horrible album there are much better R&B standards albums and much better NE albums out there.


New Edition – All For Love

New Edition
All For Love
November 8, 1985

MCA RecordsUMG
070/100
New Edition - All For Love
1. Count Me Out // 2. A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes) // 3. Sweet Thing // 4. With You All the Way // 5. Let’s Be Friends // 6. Kickback // 7. Tonight’s Your Night // 8. Whispers In the Bed // 9. Who Do We Trust // 10. School // 11. All For Love

By the time All For Love dropped New Edition was on a roll. Their indie label debut Candy Girl had put the five boys from Boston firmly on the map in ’83. The following year major label MCA had bought them out of their recording contract leaving them heavily in debt to their new employers, but their self-titled sophomore album was pretty successful and went a long way in helping to recoup MCA’s investment and solving NE’s debt. It should therefor come as no surprise that their third album serves up more of the stuff that made their previous disc go double platinum. Sunny R&B-pop with absolute alpha male and Michael Jackson-emulator extraordinaire Ralph Tresvant on leads and the other four guys mostly in backup capacity, snagging up the occasional lead vocal when Ralph was out of the booth taking a piss or something. And all of the guys were apparently content with that.

Well, all but oneAll For Love would be the last New Edition album released before Bobby Brown decided to start a solo-career, ostensibly because according to him All For Love sounds like he might as well had already left before they started recording it. (He’s not entirely right, he pops up on Count Me OutKickback and School and Who Do We Trust is mostly his show, but over the course of this album he doesn’t get as much time on leads as Ralph does, so he was right about that.) But we’ll get to Bob’s solo adventures soon enough.

This album is an enjoyable enough sequel to New Edition. It’s a bit harder, crisper and more electro funkafied and danceable than what they did the last time around. But that’s speaking relatively only to their last album, off course. You can still just picture your grandmother walking into the room while All For Love is on, and commenting on N.E. being “Such nice boys”. There’s no real edge of any sort. Which was supposedly the other reason for Bobby to get himself kicked out leave. He didn’t agree with the artistic direction they were headed in. (Looks like Robbie Williams took notice.) But for this album’s intents and purposes that may not be such a bad thing. The hooks are still as catchy as ever and Ralph is still as good an MJ update as he was the last time around.

Count Me Out has Ralph explaining why he can’t hang with the gang because he has to do stuff with his lady while Bobby, Ricky, Ronnie and Mike doing their best to convince him to do otherwise because no-one will come to the New Edition shows when he’s not there and it’s got cute and catchy conceptual songwriting that today’s teen pop/R&B could use more of.
A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes) is a slow, romantic electro-funk groove that either or both of your parents at some point may have done the robot to.
Sweet Thing could be the intro to an ’80s sitcom about a white suburban family with a strict but just father with a golden heart, an overbearingly loving and understanding mother, an insecure teenage daughter, a quirky preteen son and a dog who get into shenanigans together, and it summons exactly that type of cozy mood.
With You All The Way could be about giving up one’s virginity if it were sung by a girl, but since it’s Tresvant it’s about sticking with a loved one through thick and thin. Unless you’re part of the twerk generation there’s a small chance you’ll get laid if you put this on while in a romantic situation with a girl.
Let’s Be Friends has the boys friendzoning some girls because they’re “going too fast”, which may or may not be something that guys actually did in 1985 (For the record, I don’t think they did).
And the rest of the songs with titles KickbackTonight’s Your NightWhispers In Bed, Who Do You TrustSchool and All For Love are exactly what you expect of them if you know what NE is all about.

All For Love is a lot like today’s teen pop albums by the likes of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus with age-appropriate songs about romantic situations, except more fun and soulful and with a vintage veneer that makes everything sound more classy than it in reality probably is.
The album does nothing to push either NE or music as a whole forward by fucking with new sounds, in fact it sounds like the last album they did, this one must concur to mr. Brown, “that New Edition of the Jackson 5” stuff remains the mantra the producers, songwriters and Ralph appear repeated when working on this, as they had since their debut. But besides the preachy, old-school hip-hop inluenced School there are no real missteps, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t an entertaining collection of music. And if that’s what you’re looking for in music you’ve just found it.

Best tracks
Count Me Out
A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes)
With You All the Way

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


New Edition – New Edition

New Edition
New Edition
July 6, 1984
MCA RecordsUMG
073/100
New Edition - New Edition
1. Cool It Now // 2. Mr. Telephone Man // 3. I’m Leaving You Again // 4. Baby Love // 5. Delicious // 6. My Secret (Didja Get It Yet?) // 7. Hide & Seek // 8. Lost In Love // 9. Kind of Girls We Like  // 10. Maryann

New Edition jumped ship from Maurice Starr’s Warlock Records to major label MCA Records as soon as they got the chance, which was both the only logical next step in NE’s career, since there was perhaps more star potential in the group than a small indie label could manage, and a complete bitch-move, because Starr had put the boys on big time.

The new label and producers however cannot be accused of being unfaithful to Starr’s vision of pushing a rebooted, contemporary Jackson 5 to the masses, especially on the uptempo hit singles Cool It Now and Mr. Telephone Man on which Jacksons-esque vocal harmonies are combined with synthy ’80s post-disco and rapping, which had just been invented at the time but was steady on the rise in becoming a thing.

Although post-disco electro-pop dominates the record there is also decent quiet storm efforts such as I’m Leaving You Again and Lost In Love, and even a sort of Kool and the Gang-esque disco-doo wop hybrid with a saucy sax solo called Maryann, closing the album. New Edition sounds as though it could just as well have been released on Dick Griffey’s SOLAR records.

While Cool It Now remains every bit as much breezy dancefloor fun as it must have been when it initially hit the charts, the Ray Parker, jr.-helmed (of the Ghostbusters theme-fame)  Mr. Telephone Man sounds a lot more dated, both because of the outdated technology that its pun revolves around, and because of its quaint conceptual songwriting itself. It’s still a good song, but you can pretty much carbon date it to it’s release date as a single in late november ’84, using nothing but common sense.

Some of the other sounds, such as Baby Love, which has an instrumental that summons the mental image of the dramatic opening-credits sequence of a bad ’80s cop movie, are also going to be helpful when the archaeologists are digging this up, kinda like I’m doing now.

The occasional loss of lyrical relevance or overdramatic musical backing aside though, New Edition, like its predecessor Candy Girl is some terrific teen-pop stuff. Catchy, clean, somewhat modestly produced and sweet without being unnecessarily corny, well sung, well written and with ten tracks (together clocking at 43:13 minutes) not overstaying its welcome.

Compared to Candy Girl New Edition is a lot more slick and polished, which is to be expected when you go from an indie label like Warlock to a major one like MCA. It also sounds more varied, which can attributed to the use of multiple songwriters/ producers rather than Candy Girl‘s monolithic Maurice Starr-helmed musical backing. It also helps that this album sounds more like a group effort that their debut, with Bobby Brown snagging a lead from absolute alpha male Ralph Tresvant on Hide and Seek, everybody popping up somewhere on this record rapping or singing, and the whole group getting some shine together on Mr. telephone ManKind of Girls We Like and Maryann, as well as the group’s own compositions making it to the cut, and sounding just as good as the mterial the corporate songwriters brought them.

New Edition is some terrific pop music and deserves a revisit.

Best tracks
Cool It Now
Mr. Telephone Man
Hide and Seek
Lost In Love
Maryann

Recommendations
Pick this one up.


New Edition – Candy Girl

New Edition
Candy Girl
March 15, 1983
Streetwise/ Warlock
065/100
New Edition - Candy Girl
1. Gimme Your Love // 2. She Gives Me a Bang // 3. Is This The End? // 4. Pass the Beat // 5. Popcorn Love // 6. Candy Girl // 7. Ooh Baby // 8. Should Never Have Told Me // 9. Gotta Have Your Lovin’ // 10. Jealous Girl

Few guessed in 1983, when Candy Girl dropped, that this rather literal 1980s appropriation of the Motown-era Jackson 5’s career would in fact take off and never really die out (not even today, even if they’re not as big as they used to be). Since ’83 they have released seven group albums and every member has found some form of succes outside of the group. Bobby Brown being the best example, selling eight million copies of his sophomore Don’t Be Cruel. And every time the guys regroup they manage to rack up some interest with music audiences worldwide.

Few guessed that under the pressure of fame and fortune these kids would go on to hate one another’s guts, use lots of drugs, fight each other over lead vocal parts in songs, marry R&B divas, go K-Fed on said diva’s ’til divorce, and that in ’86 the “Bad Boy of the group” Bobby Brown would split from the group to succesfully start his own solo career by beefing up his sound and his image, setting the template for future male vocal groups and indivual members’ solo careers (see Take That and *NSYNC). Yet when his solo albums stopped selling simultaneously with Ralph’s, Bell Viv DeVoe’s and Johnny Gill’s (Bobby’s replacement in the group 1987-’88) they could all keep being rich R&B stars by putting their differences aside, reuniting and putting out a brand new New Edition album. (And when the money started coming in again, dropping the humility acts, picking up where the group left off, settle some scores and break-up again. Oh well.)

Yet all of these things were direct and indirect results of Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins and Ricky Bell (who lived in the same Boston housing projects) taking part in a talent show as Jackson 5 imitators. Producer Maurice Starr thinking that the boys could actually work as a profitable early eighties J5 equivalent and him signing them on the spot. At some point Ralph Tresvant came in and became the lead singer of the group (because he had that Motown Michael vocals down) and the cousin of their choreographer: Ronnie DeVoe would also parttake in what was supposed to be a New Edition of the Jackson Brothers mid-sixties incarnation.

Back to this album. As for updating the J5 soun for 1983, this is probably indeed what Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Michael and Marlon and/or Randy would’ve sounded like in ’83 if none of them had gone through puberty by that time. However, with the production clearly placed in the early ’80s through the incorporation of Zapp-esque basslines, melodies and vocoder parts, as well as the boys breaking out the occasional rap NE sported a sound that was instantly identifyable as being something new, rather than a dusted-off J5 album.

Most of these songs are sunny, mildly funky electronic pop-soul concoctions that may be a bit too cheerful, saccharine and exuberant for some people’s tastes (New Edition was after all the world’s first manufactured, producer-groomed boyband) but as far as teen-pop goes this is pretty terrific stuff. Hooky hooks, danceable instrumentation and lyrics that are simple but never nonsensical. Gimme Your LovePop Corn Love and Candy Girl stand out in particular, although Got to Have Your Lovin’ and She Gives Me a Bang (can you guess the recurring theme in these songs?) don’t fall far behind.

Is This the End? and Jeaulous Girl are pretty sweet dramatic-death-of-puppy-love ballads, and although Ralph can’t really fuck with mid-’70s Michael in this type of song (who can really?) he’s still got a lot more soul than your average teen heartthrob in the Justin Bieber/ Donny Osmond category.

The best thing on here however is Pass the Beat, a minimal Axel F-rip off of an electronic party groove that has all the boys passing the mic around and rap-singing their way past it. It’s the one song that in no way sounds like you know who and should get some people to “shake it, don’t break it” on the floor, were you throw it on at the house-party.

Candy girl is, like most teen pop albums, pure uncut fluff. It is however pretty good fluff. And while it doesn’t even hint at the greatness what was  to come in the form of follow-up albums and solo projects by its various members(bar maybe Pass the Beat)  it is more often than not bouncy, groovy, catchy music that’ll get you to tap your foot or nod you head or do whatever your music listening tic forces you to do. And for that it warrants a revisit.

Best tracks
Gimme Your Love
Popcorn Love
Candy Girl
Is This the End?
Pass The Beat

Recommendations
Pick this up if you find it for a reasonable price. It isn’t very substantial or very original, but the guys have nice voices and Maurice Starr gave them catchy songs. And if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t over-analise it you can have a lot of fun with it.