Category Archives: Soul

Wham! – Fantastic

Wham!
Fantastic
July 9, 1983
Innervision/ Columbia/ SME
055/100
Wham! - Fantastic
1. Bad Boys // 2. A Ray of Sunshine // 3. Love Machine // 4. Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?) // 5. Club Tropicana // 6. Nothing Looks the Same In the Light // 7. Come On // 8. Young Guns (Go For It!)

Fantastic, the debut album of UK-based 1980s blue eyed soul duo Wham! is one of those albums that is uniformly shitted upon, not only by music connaisseurs but especially by its creator (the guy who wrote, composed, sang and produced everything on this record) George Michael. Three of the singles released, as well as that album-title seem to indicate that it was meant to play as a sort of practical joke on the listener. Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do?) and Young Guns (Go For It!) appear to be a parodies of sorts of topical Kurtis Blow rap-disco songs. The former glorifies unemployment and mooching off ones parents, the latter laments the concept of early marriage. Then there’s Bad Boys which is a whiny synth-pop ditty about the joys of defying ones parents hopes and expectations of you becoming a functioning member of society, a sentiment which is also an undercurrent on the former two songs.

It’s a shame that these dated, goofy travesties of songs are the songs best remembered off Fantastic because there’s more positive, less gimmicky hedonism to be found on this record. On the one single that actually sounds like Wham! gave a fuck about what they were doing; Club Tropicana, there’s silliness a plenty, but this cheese is less stinky. And the faux-latin disco instrumental and catchy-as-ebola hook make this one a summertime jam for the ages.
A Ray of Sunshine and Come On are more generic, but no less fun in their rubbery throwaway funk-lite vapidness. The same goes for the Miracles-cover Love Machine, which sounds pretty much exactly like the original version, except caucasian. These, and especially the atmospherically hungover/blue ballad Nothing Looks the Same in the Light, in retrospect appear to indicate of Michael’s future one-hundred-million+ records sold. They also make up over half of this half hour-album’s running time, so while Fantastic is far from perfect, (even calling it good would be a bit of a stretch) it’s not complete shit as George Michael would have you believe.

Best tracks
A Ray of Sunshine
Club Tropicana
Come On
Nothing Looks the Same in the Light

Recommendations
1980s post-disco aficianados may want to give the above four tracks a spin.


Y?N-Vee – Y?N-Vee

Y?N-Vee
Y?N-Vee
October 18, 1994
PMP/ Rush Associated Labels/ Def Jam RecordingsBMGSME
063/100
YNV
1. Even When U Sleep // 2. All I Wanna Do // 3. 4 Play // 4. I’m Going Down // 5. Sceamin’ // 6. Sonshine’s Groove // 7. Chocolate // 8. Stra8 Hustler // 9. Tricks-N-Trainin’ (feat. Abstract Rude) // 10. Y?N-Vee // 11. Real G // 12. Gangsta’s Prayer // 13. We Got a Good Thing

One of the most amusing things about writing about pop music and researching its shelf life is that one is regularly confronted with odd fashion trends that appear to affirm that human history is cyclical. The hanging suspenders which are on full display on this album’s cover were apparently a thing twenty years ago, and fucking hell they made a comeback in street fashion not too long ago. If that doesn’t prove that humanity only makes technological progress but none ethically and therefor is doomed to repeat its mistakes increasingly efficiently until it inevitably causes its own demise then perhaps the next world war/ super genocide will.

L.A. based R&B/hip-hop quartet Y?N-Vee made its debut on that abysmal Johnny J album and performed most of the backing vocals on Thug Life: Volume 1. Apparently they inked a deal of their own with PMP Records, a Def Jam subsidiary that is best known for being the recording home of Montell Jordan. Their self-titled debut, and only album really, is the result of that signing. The Mary Jane-sampling Chocolate was a moderate hit apparently but Y?N-Vee never sold that many copies so everyone in the group had to return to their day jobs in order for Def Jam to recuperate that album advance shortly thereafter. Well not everyone in the group, apparently 2pac when he sprung from the klink in late 1995 still had Natasha Walker’s phone number in his rolodex from the Thug Life sessions so she got to be an unsung assistent to the creation of the diamond-selling, very first double CD of original material in the hip-hop genre All Eyez On Me. I’m sure that the paycheques for that job kept the lights on for a while, provided that Suge actually felt like sending them out off course. Given that Walker had a working relation with Johnny J and Thug Life, both before and after recording this album, it’s odd that they don’t make an appearance. Surely a 2pac guest appearance would’ve been big enough a selling point of this album for someone at Def Jam to pull out the chequebook? I’m also quite certain the man was available for the job. It’s not like he was in the hospital for being shot multiple times or in prison for being a convicted rapist yet. Was even Big Syke too busy polishing Pac’s boots to phone in a verse?

Y?N-Vee isn’t the most distinctive sounding mid-’90s R&B outfit out there, they basically sound like Zhané with rappers among its ranks, but Walker has a rather pleasant singing voice, and the rappers, while not dropping any knowledge, is perfectly competent at talking over instrumentals. Speaking of which: the production backing these girls, mostly courtesy of Doug Rasheed, isn’t half bad either. Mixing quiet storm and G-funk isn’t the most original idea ever, but it was at that time a proven formula for success and these beats are pretty sexy in a vintage ’94 type of manner. Sampling Mary Jane on one song and covering I’m Going Down on another is a bit much though since Mary J. Blige did the same on her My Life album released about a month after this came out. (I realise that this means that Y?N-Vee then would be the originators of these ideas and P. Daddy Blige the jacker but My Life is a textbook classic of ’90s R&B and Mary J. Blige is still working today so it gets a pass even if that is a bit unfair to today’s subjects.)
Taken on its own though this album’s relatively friendly, relatively warm approach to quitessential R&B and hip-hop subjects such as intercourse, infidelity and substance abuse leaves little to complain about. While not shying away from expletives or otherwise explicit content it does steer clear of obscenity most of the time.

It’s difficult choosing highlights from this consistent, slightly dull record. Everything sounds sort of same-ish, except I’m Going Down which is less mundanely, less datedly written because it’s a cover of a classic R&B song that doesn’t concern itself with being street smart. Chocolate‘s impeccable, sunny borrowed Rick James-groove is seductive fun, comparing a woman’s body to weed or actual chocolate or something along those lines. Even When U Sleep is a sexy, confident opener that establishes the mood of this record nicely and All I Wanna Do is one of the most suave things on here. Stra8 Hustler and Gangsta’s Prayer are decent attempts at gangsta rap and Real G is an ode to that genre and the style associated with it, incorporating the same Eddie Bo Hook and Sling sample DJ Quik used for his classic Jus’ Like Compton, which is a nice touch west coast hip-hop fans will be sure to appreciate. But this albums strength lies not in highlighs but rather in consistency. There are no real duds on here, so you can put the CD on and get busy with your Bae without changing songs for sixty or so minutes (provided that you live in the 1990s off course), and that definitely counts for something.

Best tracks
I’m Going Down
Chocolate

Recommendations
If you’re the type of person who enjoy TLC records Y?N-Vee is for you.


John Mayer – Heavier Things

John Mayer
Heavier Things
September 9, 2003
Aware RecordsColumbia RecordsSME
062/100
John Mayer - Heavier Things
1. Clarity // 2. Bigger Than My Body // 3. Something’s Missing // 4. New Deep // 5. Come Back to Bed // 6. Home Life // 7. Split Screen Sadness // 8. Daughters // 9. Only Heart // 10. Wheel

Singer-songwriter John Mayer’s first full length album Room For Squares sold milions of copies and unexpectedly so. Who knew women of all ages have a soft spot for a guitar-strummy pretty boy velvettily crooning his little heart out about his feelings regarding the fairer sex and his aspirations? (Please don’t answer that in the comment section, that was a rhetorical question.)
Yes Room For Squares was aimed at the heart of the white middle aged housewife demographic adult contemporary radio, and it was incredibly dull. But it still served a purpose in being the perfect soundtrack to an hour or so spent in a Starbucks by members the then-budding hipster community. And if you paid attention to it and managed to stay awake doing so, you would discover that Mayer was a pretty good songwriter with attention to detail and has some pretty good observation skills.
I would give you a example of where Squares offers these qualities here but I cannot remember a single song off Squares beyond Your Body Is a Wonderland, which isn’t a very good example of what is good about John Mayer, despite being his signature song, well until Daughters was released as a single, which also isn’t showing Mayer’s best side, but I digress.

Heavier Things isn’t a grand departure from Squares or anything, but it does sound different enough in that the sound is beefed up justlittle bit. This upgrades Mayer’s music from the sort of adult contemporary radio music you don’t really notice being on to the sort of adult contemporary radio music that gets stuck in your head. In short Heavier Things‘ producer, Jack Joseph Puig, did something to Mayer’s music Room For Squares‘ producer, John Alagia couldn’t; make it memorable at times. Those times are the album-opener Clarity, the next song Bigger Than My Body and Come Back to Bed.
Oh and Daughters is memorable too, although it’s debatable whether it’s positive or negative for that particular song.

Clarity is relaxing and uplifting at the same time and has Mayer’s corduroy croon slide into smooth falsetto on the hook. This combined with the soulful instrumentation makes for something much richer than anything off his debut.
Bigger Than My Body is where the album really picks up steam and ups the tempo. It is unfortunate that Mayer never really comes back to it because this type of faster song (relatively speaking off course, this is still Mayer so the song is still going to be chilled enough to not disrupt a dinnertable conversation) fits him like a glove. Unfortunately the album hits snooze shortly after and never really manages to wake up on time.
On Come Back to Bed however this drowsiness is actually a good thing. On it Mayer pleads to his better half to rejoin him after she got out of the sack because of something he did or didn’t say (What exactly he did wrong he hasn’t figured out himself yet.) It’s gracious, sexy, hooky, bluesy and soulful and would’ve been a big hit if Aware Records/ Columbia had released it as a single.

Then there’s Daughters which has an inescapable hook and could be considered a Hallmark card set to wax or aural dreck leaving a slime trail depending what side of the fence you’re on. This reviewer hates it with every fiber of his body. Contained within it are all those things some wish real boyfriends knew and said, as well as sexism aimed both at women and men in several instances. It may be a well written contemporary pop-classic and all but bleh, this trifle is nauseating.

All of the other songs are alright, nothing more, nothing less. They sound more interesting than the filler off his last album but not by a wide margin. But, in combination with the stand-out songs, they sound good enough to call Heavier Things a fairly big improvement over his first album.

Best tracks
Clarity
Bigger Than My Body
Come Back to Bed
Daughters

Recommendations
Pick this one up. It’s an alright enough record for lazy sundays. Do buy a used copy though if you can find one. This album isn’t necessarily worth a lot of money.


Christopher Williams – Adventures In Paradise

Christopher Williams
Adventures in Paradise
July 25, 1989
Geffen RecordsUMG
060/100
Christopher Williams - Adventures In Paradise
1. Talk to Myself // 2. Sexy Sex // 3. Never Let Our Love Die // 4. (Lift You Up) Turn You Around // 5. Paradise // 6. Promises, Promises // 7. One Girl // 8. If That’s What You Want // 9. I’m Your Present // 10. Always & Forever // 11. Lover Come Back // 12. Sweet Memories

The onslaught of high-quality, moderate length R&B albums coming from Uptown records couldn’t last forever. And while Christopher Williams’ debut album Adventures In Paradise isn’t an outright failiure, and at times showcases some fairly pleasant R&B music it doesn’t have the same amout of highlights that for instance In Effect Mode and Guy had, and it runs fifteen to twently minutes longer than either of those classics, which kind of means it runs fifteen minutes too long. Besides that Williams doesn’t have Al B. Sure!’s lithe and Guy’s… well Guy’s Teddy Riley throwing him beats. (On the other hand Timmy Gatling produces three songs on here. Guess it is nice to know het got at least one more Uptown/MCA paycheque after quitting Guy right before the group dropped a platinum album and started making money.) So while this album may not exactly be where it all turnt to shit it certainly is on of the less essential recordings from the ‘New Jack Swing’ era.

Williams sounds like a more relaxedly singing Johnny Gill, which is to say he’s a fine soul singer. It is also to say he is a little bland since, hate it or love it, Gill’s strenuously ferocious vocal stylings are what set him apart from the pack more than anything else.
But Williams certainly sounds like he could be a compelling singer given the right collaborators. Teddy Riley, Babyface & L.A. Reid and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis come to mind.
Timmy Gatling, Nick Martinelli, Nick Matkosky, Robert Brookins, Nevelle, Joel Davis, DJ Eddie F and some guy who goes by the moniker of Wokie are what he works with here in stead. Although Andre Harrell did sign off on Gerald Levert providing a couple of songs before he left for a holiday trip to the Bahamas for the duration of this album’s recording (his name is nowhere to be found in the liner notes.) [EDIT: Which is because Adventures In Paradise  apparently was not released on Uptown Records. Apparently Williams only signed over to the label after releasing his debut to release his sophomore album Changes there. Oh well.]
To be fair this group of relative no-names and Levert churn out some perfectly adequate, impeccably produced late ’80s urban soul. There are a couple of dance numbers but Williams is mostly in quiet storm mode steering clear of hip-hop territory most of the time, which given the horrendous raps of the Guy-aping, Gatling-produced opening track Talk to Myself, which manage to rhyme ‘departed’ with ‘retarded’ may be a huge blessing. Still, for the most part the album fails to grab the listeners attention. This may make it perfect background noise for shopping malls and the like but it also makes it seriously unfit for keeping in a music collection.

Although Adventures In Paradise may not be very exciting there surely is a market for it. I can imagine your Freddie Jackson loving, fifty year old aunt just melting away listening to this album. If her birthday is coming up you might as well throw a couple of nickels over the counter at the used CD shop may you come across this there (I can’t image too many copies lying around in other places).
But for all other intents and purposes this album is probably rather useless. These days you probably couldn’t even get laid to songs like Sexy Sex anymore (Unless you’re into hotel elevator hookups). There’s nothing remotely memorable about Adventures In Paradise. I should know, I just listened to the thing and besides that sucky amateur rap at the beginning I can’t remember a specific thing about it.

Best tracks
Talk to Myself is quite good, even if the rap bits are cringeworthy. It really makes one wonder how big Timmy Gatling’s roll was in producing Guy. It must’ve been bigger than everyone thought because Talk to Myself sounds exactly like a Guy song. Either Timmy was as important to Guy as Teddy was or he decided to take one of Teddy’s spare beats with him to sell before storming out of the band’s back door never to return and that beat became Talk to MyselfThat theory was more interesting than the entirety of this album unfortunately.

Recommendations
Don’t buy this album. Or do buy it. Whatever, I don’t care. It’s your elevator.


New Kids on the Block – Hangin’ Tough

New Kids on the Block
Hangin’ Tough

September 6, 1988
Columbia RecordsSME
055/100
New Kids on the Block - Hangin' Tough
1. You Got It (The Right Stuff) // 2. Please Don’t Go Girl // 3. I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) // 4. Cover Girl // 5. I Need You // 6. Hangin’ Tough // 7. I Remember When // 8. What’cha Gonna Do (About It) // 9. My Favorite Girl // 10. Hold On

Whenever paying attention to New Kids on the Block I never cease to find amusement in the idea that this group was recruited and assembled solely for the purpose of producer Maurice Starr getting back at his former New Edition pupils for singning to MCA Records to have a succesful career, after he brought them fame by producing their debut and releasing it on his indie label, without him getting any share of the profits whatsoever.
Off course this probably is not reality, or rather it’s not the complete story: New Kids on the Block was started first and foremost to compensate Starr’s lack of said profits because the man, like anyone, enjoyed having an income, although my proposition of Starr’s reasoning is most likely not entirely without truth.

Whichever of the man’s life purposes NKotB primarily served (that’s one shitty acronym, when you pronounce it not one syllable is won from the full name) vengeance or greed, doesn’t really matter because their sophomore album Hangin’ Tough achieved them both in one fell swoop by selling over seventeen million copies worldwide, which is seven million more than New Edition’s and Bobby Brown’s 1988 albums Heart Break and Don’t Be Cruel sold combined. Add to that the three million people who casually picked up a copy of the Kids 1986 self-titled debut, which had been gathering dust on shelves for two years by the time the second one dropped, and you’ll find that the New Kids and Starr sold well over double what New Edition sold that year, despite putting out somewhat derivative, inferior product. I’m not sure what of many possible causes led to this situation but to some it would seem that Starr was willing to get his goals of being filthily rich and victorious over New Edition by any means, even if that meant riding so called institutional racism that disadvantaged other members of his own so called race.

Hangin’ Tough plays like New Kids of the Block but a bit more streamlined and a bunch less funky. It would seem that the advent of New Jack Swing didn’t go unnoticed by producer Starr. Indeed Hangin’ Tough sounds like Teddy’s tinny-drum-machine-‘n’-keyboards sound chill filtred to neutrality, with some rock-ish guitars thrown in to please white parents. The result of Maurice fucking around with this sound is some impeccably produced and sung ballads and dance numbers. Despite getting the sound down Hangin’ Tough lacks the attitude to be credible to the homeboys in the streets the way Guy or Bobby brown or the sexiness to appeal to Al B. Sure! and Keith Sweat’s ladies. That was quite alright though because Starr was aiming for an entirely different demographic, one which got their albums by whining at their parents to buy them (One of the more effective ways of marketing stuff, today as much as then).
With this in mind it was probably the right decision to strip the music of every notion of personality and settle for catchy and hollow. This album is filled to the brim with the kind of naive visions of love people in their early teens can relate to, performed confidently and quite good by five handsome boys girls in their early teens like to look at on posters on bedroom walls.

Knowing that, it is probably a moot point to call the album insincere, plastic and soulless (which off course are things this album is) but I kid you not, listening to Hangin’ Tough makes one reconsider New Kids on the Block‘s artistry because that album with it’s jingling guitars, vocoder work and funky air of 100% raw milk queso sounded a lot more fun than this pasteurised horseshit. Who knew a bunch of white kids from Boston would be better at aping the Jackson Five innocently and joyfully than they ever were at trying their hand at something slicker and tougher? (I suppose all of you are now raising your hands at their computer screen, you do realise that I can’t see you, right?)

Nevertheless I have no real issues with Hangin’ Tough I suppose. I couldn’t remember so much as a single individual song after Hangin’ Tough was through, which must mean nothing even sucked memorably about it.

Best tracks
Please Don’t Go Girl

Recommendations
Meh.


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.


Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

Bobby Brown
Don’t Be Cruel
June 20, 1988
MCA RecordsUMG
080/100Bobby Brown - Don't Be Cruel

1. Cruel Prelude // 2. Don’t Be Cruel // 3. My Prerogative // 4. Roni // 5. Rock Wit’cha // 6. Every Little Step // 7. I’ll Be Good to You // 8. Take It Slow // 9. All Day All Night //10. I Really Love You Girl // 11. Cruel Reprise

Bobby Brown was once more than an ex-New Edition member and Whitney Houston’s ex-hubby (a faulty marriage well documented because Brown and Houston are ex-reality tv. stars as well as recording artists).
He was at one point R&B’s brightest young star as well as the archetypical boy band bad boy, that point was following the release of his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel. When Robbie Williams gave Take That and Nigel Martin-Smith the finger to find bigger success solo than the group had ever had collectively he was basically following Bob’s career trajectory. When Donnie Wahlberg tried to set fire to a hotel with a Molotov cocktail… well I don’t think Bobby ever did something that fucked up, but the man has had plenty of lewd and laviscous content, driving under influence, police chase, resisting arrest and drug posession arrests on his name as well as the public image of a crackhead wifebeater. To each former teen heartthrob his own way of shedding the bubblegum pop image. Word to Justin Bieber.

Don’t Be Cruel was released at the height of the New Jack Swing era which supposedly blends old-fashioned R&B soul with old school hip-hop although acts like Guy, Al B. Sure! and Keith Sweat are simply soul singers with more electronic production than was usual in the ’80s backing them in my book with little to no hip-hop influences being noticeable, but that is just my opinion so you can ignore that if you want to.
Brown however did blur the line between soul and hip-hop rapping as much as he sings on the title track and doing an LL Cool J-esque rap on the ballad Roni and busting out a verse at the end of the video edit of Every Little Step adding hip-hop swagger to his rhythm and blues.

The producers involved L.A. Reid, Babyface and Teddy Riley had all had moderate success in the music business before Cruel (Teddy working on all those Uptown records and L.A. and Face as in-house producers for Dick Griffey’s SOLAR records.) but were to completely own mainstream contemporary R&B in the decade that was to follow this album’s release. It’s not difficult to see why, their work on this album is excellent. One could say that they kickstarted the ’90s with this and it wouldn’t be much of an overstatement.

If the first five songs following the intro aren’t the best five-song-run on an R&B album ever they’re up there with the best of them. From the title track’s slinky, sinister funk through My Prerogative‘s brassy middle-fingerfest. Roni‘s B-boy romanticism, Rock Wit’cha‘s more mature sexy business and Every Little Step‘s puppy love and pop ‘n’ lock groove. This is some terrific music making, with Bob’s charismatically gruff Rick James/James Brown-ish tenor locking tightly into the groove of the somersaulting drum machine clatter. He isn’t the best technical singer out there, having a rather limited vocal range, but he knows well how to stay in it while at the same time making full use of everything he’s got and is a born entertainer. What’s more is that his sense of rhythm is excellent and he appears to really enjoy singing these catchy songs with a natural charisma that allows him to come across as both badass and as a fun individual, a loveable rascal. It is one rather engaging, catchy affair. These songs were all in the top three of the US R&B charts, in the top ten of the US pop charts with three of them hitting #1 in the former and one, namely My Prerogative, hitting #1 on the latter and copping a Grammy. And well deserved.

If this album consisted of only these five songs Don’t Be Cruel would be a perfect ten. Following them however are four well meaning but forgettable cuts. I’ll Be Good to You is standard fare late-’80s Teddy Riley-funk. It’s not bad but it absolutely pales in comparison to his other contribution My Prerogative, the album’s biggest pop-hit and a Grammy winner. (A little bit of trivia: Boy George’s 1989 Teddy Riley-produced, hit-single Don’t Take My Mind On a Trip was originally slated to appear on Don’t Be Cruel. It’s easy to imagine Bobby perform it. I would love to hear Bob’s version if any of you readers has it on a hard drive somewhere.) And closing the album are three rather forgettable slow jams Bob himself co-produced with Cameo-frontman and King of Stage-producer Larry White that require more technical singing than Bob has to offer to bring them to life.

In short Don’t Be Cruel has a fan-fucking-tastic opening run but slightly falls apart at the end. But overall it still is a really good but somewhat forgotten album that packs more hits and more punch than you can shake a stick at and proving just why he was a thing once. It is the best New Edition album, solo or otherwise. For that it derserves to be aknowledged and revisited.

Best tracks
Don’t Be Cruel
My Prerogative
Roni
Rock Wit’cha
Every Little Step

Recommendations
Pick this up.