Tag Archives: MCA Records

GP Wu – Don’t Go Against the Grain

GP Wu
Don’t Go Against the Grain
January 21, 1997
MCA RecordsUMG
060/100
GP Wu - Grain Rar
1. Smoking // 2. 1st Thing First // 3. Two Gats Up // 4. Blow Up // 5. Party People // 6. If You Only Knew // 7. Hit Me With That Shit // 8. Hip Hop // 9. Chamber Danger // 10. Underground Emperor // 11. Life Bid // 12. Don’t Go Against the Grain // 13. Things Ain’t What They Used to Be // 14. Black on Black Crime

GP Wu are considered by most rap aficianados who’ve heard of them affiliates of the Wu-Tang Clan, but other than having members Pop the Brown Hornet and Down Low Recka namechecked by Wu ringleader RZA on the intro of classic song Clan in da Front alongside a myriad of other then-no-name people they never got much out of it. Especially in the way of musical collaborations with people who were actually in the Clan. The closest any one of the guys got before the release of Don’t Go Against the Grain was Rubbabandz his appearance on the RZA produced Young Godz off Shyheim’s sophomore album The Lost Generation.
Child rapper Shyheim is the artist the people in GP Wu are most associated with being that they provided the most guest verses on his first two albums. Shy and GP member Pop the Brown Hornet are both cousins of Clan member Ghostface Killah and possibly each other so that helps explain that connection. Oddly enough neither Shy nor Ghost show up on this album, nor could RZA be bothered to throw a leftover beat their way.
Perhaps MCA Records spent the entire budget for Don’t Go Against the Grain, which can’t have been that much, on securing the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee as the album’s executive producer, even though his presence isn’t actually felt one way or another.
You could therefore if you were uninformed listen to this album thinking these guys are some sort store brand imitations of the Wu Tang Clan with no connection with the actual group whatsoever, which is serious problem for a group that actually has Wu in its name. Wu fans are known to pick up anything remotely Wu-attached but they usually will check for a good guest appearance on the back-cover before deciding to purchase or not.
Speaking of the now defunct demographic of record store customers: What’s up with that artwork? It looks like Don’t Go Against the Grain is a metal album or something… (It most certainly is not.)
That sort of mislabeling product on several levels can be potentially disastrous sales figures of your album, and perhaps it did contribute to this one flopping harder than it necessarily needed to. Although lack of any sort of hit single was also a most definitely a contributing factor.

The fact that the album went aluminum is unfortunate because while Pop the Brown Hornet, June Luva, Rubbabandz, Down Low Recka and producer RNS aren’t as virtuous as the actual Wu-Tang Clan they do adequately recreate their sound without going so over the top with it that they could be considered biters (No kung fu movie dialogue samples, no sped-up soul vocals and not too much in the way of five percenter islam-inspired lyrics). And their guest appearances on Shyheim’s albums must’ve gotten some folks to notice them.
It isn’t unthinkable that this could’ve gone gold with some assistance by Ghost, Shy, RZA or anyone else in the Clan or if they included a song produced by Puff Diddy and featuring Ma$e, and released it as a single with a video directed by Hype Williams shot on Times Square.

This album is consistently entertaining in a rather conventional 1997 New York hard core thug rap kind of way. None of the guys spit anything that hasn’t been heard better before or since, but they’re all competent rappers and because they all have distinct voices they’re all fairly easy to tell apart which helps the medicine go down.
The subject matter is all fairly standard. Substance abuse (Smoking), fire arms (Two Gats Up), hedonism and boasting of superior rap skills (Party People), the sexual prowess of GP with women who are already taken (If You Only Knew), the state of the genre (Hip Hop), the state of society (Things Ain’t The Same and Black on Black Crime) and nothing in particular (Hit Me With That Shit).
The same can be said of the productions courtesy of group member Down Low Recka and RNS. They tend to have a sese of urgency and dramatic minimalism not unlike RZA’s beats, but less spacy and less artisan. Blow Up and Hit Me With That Shit have a sort of jazzy feel because of its incorporation of minimal trumpet hits, Party People is suitably jiggy, Life Bid mixes cheesy ’80s rock synths with old school horror movie organs, Black on Black Crime features some mournful strings. The beats all perfectly nice when they’re on but appear to be satisfied with slipping from ones conscience when they’re done playing.

While there isn’t actually much to complain about here it makes sense that this album didn’t go gold, even if it easily could have with proper promotion and a better radio single. It might even have been for the better that this album was both the beginning and end of the Gladiator Posse discography. It’s not like they had that much content here, nor did they have that interesting a way of talking about their non-content. A sophomore release might’ve taken them beyond exhaustion of their subject matter, beats and rhymes. I’m not suggesting that I wish all of them should’ve stopped working after dropping this one, but perhaps their talents were better spent on the occasional guest verse here and there, especially Pop the Brown Hornet and his distinct-sounding voice.
Anyway Don’t Go Against the Grain is alright, but merely alright.

Best tracks
Smoking
Blow Up
Hit Me With That Shit
Life Bid
Party People
Black On Black Crime

Recommendations
If you are a fan of the Wu of olde and can find this for cheap in the used bin of your local record store (If there is still a thing such as a local record stores) you can pick this up. You’ll probably get a few good spins out of it.

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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.


Guy – Guy

Guy
Guy
June 13, 1988
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
080/100
Guy - Guy1. Groove Me // 2. Teddy’s Jam // 3. Don’t Clap… Just Dance // 4. You Can Call Me Crazy (feat. Timmy Gatling & Al B. Sure!) // 5. Piece of My Love // 6. I Like // 7. ’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love) // 8. Spend the Night // 9. Goodbye Love // 10. My Business (feat. Timmy Gatling)

Teddy’s late ’80s drum machine-‘n’-synth beats aren’t the most sophisticated instrumentals ever made and Aaron’s third rate Stevie-isms are far from original way of singing R&B music, but put them together and the resulting album is an album far funkier than it has any right to be. Guy is one of those things greater than the sum of its parts.

Guy was the brainchild of producer Teddy Riley and his childhood friend Timmy Gatling. They recruited singer Aaron Hall to join them and Guy started recording their epinomous debut album for Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records under the guidance of manager Gene Griffin who is also credited as co-producer of every track of this album. Apparently Hall and Riley didn’t get along in person despite their on-wax chemistry because right before Guy was released Gatling was so sick of their animosity he got the hell out of dodge.
It is for this reason he sings lead vocals on two of the album’s tracks and gets eight songwriting credits even though when the album dropped he was no longer officially considered a part of the group and is nowhere to be found on the album’s cover. (The guy who was called in as Gatling’s last-minute replacement for a tour Guy did with New Edition was Aaron’s brother Damion who is on the cover but did zilch in creating the music.)

Changing line-ups would be recurring thing in Teddy Riley’s performing career, especially in his second group BLACKstreet.

One thing that sets apart Guy from the other completely Riley-produced LP we had so far, Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever, is that the majority of the songs are uptempo where Sweat was mostly about slow jams.
Another thing that sets apart Keith Sweat and Aaron Hall is that Aaron has a far more fiery, gospel-infused vocal style.
Who says that New Jack Swing artists were passed through cookie cutter and were indistinct of one another? (Many music critics do.)

Guy marries soul vocal stylings with hip-hop production stylings the way no complete album had done before it. It also follows some hip-hop conventions of the time. For instance it has a DJ cut in the form of Teddy’s Jam.

Teddy  really did his thing with these lo fi synths and drum machines creating a slightly overcrowded, machanical variety of the funk. Hall, Gatling and Riley himself when he sings lead on Spend the Night are the humanising components. Back in 1988 this must’ve sounded pretty futuristic but today the vibe is mostly quaintly old school (or vintage as some would call it..).

Groove Me and ’round and ’round (Merry Go Round of Love) are the best things on here. They’re ballsy party jams that a lot of club DJs would do well to revisit.
Teddy’s Jam also fits that bill although because of it’s relative lack of vocals one might run the risk of partygoers believing they put on some backing music from a primitive video game.
Piece of My Love and Spend the Night aren’t the best New Jack Swing ballads by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re not bad and their inclusion helps prevent the monotony of nothing but pistoning dance beats that otherwise would’ve occured.

Overall Guy is a pretty good flagship release for the New Jack Swing genre, being pretty representative of its dance music side, with a few ballads thrown in for good measure.
The production, despite of (or because of) being rather dated, is pretty cool and Aaron Hall is a charismatic frontman who performs these songs with enough gusto to make up for his minor lackings as a singer. It’s too bad that short, high-quality R&B releases such as this, Make It Last Forever and In Effect Mode (among others) would soon be a thing of the past after the ascent of the CD and the possibility it created for artists to make their album’s twice as long as they could be in the vinyl/ cassette era (Guy’s 1990 sophomore album The Future is 72:02 minutes long compared to this one’s 44:42 which means as much as that a shitload of watered down, unfocused filler made the cut) but that makes one only appreciate releases like this that much more. Good stuff.

Best tracks
Groove Me
Teddy’s Jam
’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love)
Piece of My Love

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Genius/ GZA – Liquid Swords

Genius/ GZA
Liquid Swords
November 7, 1995
MCA RecordsUMG
085/100
GZA - Liquid Swords
1. Liquid Swords (feat. RZA) // 2. Duel of the Iron Mic (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Masta Killa & Inspectah Deck) // 3. Living In the World Today (feat. RZA & Method Man) // 4. Gold (feat. Method Man) // 5. Cold World (feat. GZA, Inspectah Deck & Life) // 6. Labels (feat. RZA) // 7. 4th Chamber (feat. Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & RZA) // 8. Shadowboxin’ (feat. Method Man) // 9a. Hell’s Wind Staff  /9b. Killah Hills 10304 (feat. RZA & Ol’ Dirty Bastard) // 10. Investigative Reports (feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah & U-God) // 11. Swordsman // 12. I Gotcha Back (feat. RZA) // 13. B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth) (performed by Killah Priest)

GZA’s Liquid Swords is by a wide consensus amongst Clan-fanboys considered the absolute finest of the solo-albums that any of the Wu’s nine members produced ever.
While personally this reviewer would give Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… that particular assessment (I’m admittedly not a much of a connoisseur) he does recognise it as being an extremely good rap album.

Here’s what it has going for it:
GZA for the time being (the time being 1995) was the best MC in the clan in at least the aspect of rapping for rapping’s sake. Rae and Ghost had better story telling raps, ODB and Meth had more distinct sounding voices and charisma (and hence more pop appeal and better-selling album) and RZA may have been the mastermind and the artiste out of the group, but nobody had individual lines like GZA did. Off course good punchlines don’t necessarily make good songs (word to Canibus) but GZA had a large enough attention span, as well as a smooth, calm delivery to ensure that his recording were cohesive enough.
Also Liquid Swords is the first Wu-solo album that features all of the other Clan-members alongside  its main attraction in guest capacity. Besides R&B singer Life and religious ranter Killah Priest no B-teamers were allowed near the project. This ensured several good things:
1. GZA couldn’t afford to self-indulge too much because he always was in company in the booth, which helped prevent stupid-ass songs like Stay Out of Bars off his forgotten Cold Chillin’-debut Words From the Genius, Vol. 1.
2. The people he was surrounded with were as talented as he was so he had to put in an effort on each song not to lose the spotligh.
3. He worked with people he was comfortable with and was proven to have chemistry with.
Finally Liquid Swords had the monolithic production courtesy of his cousin and Clan ringleader RZA at a time when that guaranteed banging beats. Prince Rakeem had in the two years prior created almost four complete albums of fantastic and unmistakable production for the entire Clan, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Raekwon (guest starring Ghostface Killah) respectively and showed no sings of slowing down with Liquid Swords (although in truth by this time probably was working towards a burn-out because Liquid Swords was the penultimate Wu-solo album not handles almost exclusively by Bobby Digital, bar his own albums. And along with RZA leaving the studio every once in a while, the guarantee of Wu-solo albums being hot by default disappeared, which means that either this album or Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man, depending on who you ask, marks the end of the group’s golden era.).

The Genius had released an album prior to this one four years earlier when there was no such thing as the Wu, on Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie’s legendary old school hip-hop label Cold Chillin’ Records. That album had surprisingly mediocre beats (by the usually reliable Easy-Mo-Bee) and had the man performing mistifying pop-rap/ house-rap songs such as the Wu-jack swing number (which is exactly as shitty as that sounds) Come Do Me. Everyone has to start somewhere I suppose. Words From a Genius, Vol. 1 is however not the place to start your GZA experience. Liquid Swords is superior in every aspect.
It’s hard to imagine any one of the Wu’s fans being disappointed with Liquid Swords when it dropped. It has everything one could’ve come to expect from the Clan so far: battle raps, religious imagery, chess references, nerdy gangsta raps, eerie yet warm beats and kung-fu samples breaking it all up. One could argue that the Wu were playing it safe by not offering their fans but the fans know that sticking to the script in this case was actually a good thing.

Despite both Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records (The both of which are name-checked along with a myriad of other labels, most of which have gone bankrupt by now, on Labels.) habing already risen to the forefront of the hip-hop genre and to the top of the charts by ’95 with different, distinct R&B-infused sounds this album didn’t follow the trend and pretended the mainstream didn’t exist. There zero songs for the ladies, null jams for the clubs and no songs for the radio.
In stead we get typical prime, grimy Wu material that is perfect for small, marijuana-laced social gatherings.
The title track has a catchy hook though, and songs like Duel of the Iron MicGold and Shadowboxin’ to which Meth and ODB lend their voices have the most pop appeal, given that you’re into the Wu-æsthetic, but even these relatively accessible songs are grimier than most rap album’s songs for the streets. It was this uncompromising attitude to hip-hop that is the Clan’s bread and butter and is characteristic of their best work. (Their bids for radio play conversely are almost universely considered shitty by the fans.)
Duel of the Iron Mic4th Chamber, Shadowboxin‘, Duel of the Iron MicCold World and Investigative Reports are some of the best Wu-collabos put to wax while the title track, GoldLabelsSwordsmanHells Wind Staff/ Killah Hills 10304 and I Gotcha’ Back allow GZA to take the spotlight.

Liquid Swords is a prime example of the Wu-movement at the peak of its powers, everything just works. There are no real weak spots, bar maybe the closing track B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth) which is a self-important religious rant. Still RZA and GZA can’t be blamed for that one since it’s a Killah Priest solo-shot with a 4th Disciple beat. And even that song doesn’t entirely suck.

Best tracks
Liquid Swords
Duel of the Iron Mic
Cold World
Labels
4th Chamber
Shadowboxin’

Recommendations
Pick it up.


Bobby Brown – King of Stage

Bobby Brown
King of Stage
December 11, 1986
MCA RecordsUMG
065/100
Bobby Brown - King of Stage
1. Girlfriend // 2. Girl Next Door // 3. Baby I Wanna Tell You Something // 4. You Ain’t Been Loved Right // 5. King of Stage // 6. Love Obsession // 7. Spending Time // 8. Seventeen // 9. Your Tender Romance

While New Edition was rebooting the Platters and Maurice Starr was rebooting New Edition, Bobby Brown, whose ties with all these people were severed, was busy recording his solo-debut album King of Stage. Most people who followed New Edition would probably have sworn that Ralph, being that he sang all the leads and was arguably the best singer out the group (until Johnny Gill became a member anyway), would be not only the first one to have a solo album but would also become the brightest star. Unfortunately for Tresvant Brown got to do both those things after his bandmates voted him out of the group in late 1985.

Bobby Brown’s solo career is most remembered – when it isn’t completely and unfortunately eclipsed by the memory of all that Bobby-Whitney stuff – for his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel, which along with debut albums by Keith Sweat and Guy helped popularise new jack swing, an R&B-mutation that combined early hip-hop’s hard-hitting drums and minimal melody with classic soul’s smoothed-out sung vocals (although most New Jack Swing artists also rapped on their own records at the very least every once in a while).

King of Stage is a rap-soul hybrid as well, but a more primitive, less integrated one. And bar the title track nothing on here could remotely be considered hip-hop or strongly hip-hop influenced like his subsequent work. Basically this album’s instrumentals are typical ’80s funk-jams and slow dancers, with one imitation RUN-DMC beat thrown in for good measure, mostly provided by Cameo-frontman Larry Blackmon as well as Isaac Hayes/Isley Brothers/Aretha Franklin songwriter Michael Lovesmith and Boston club DJ John Luongo, over which Bobby mostly sings but busts out the occasional LL Cool J’s I Need Love-esque rap verse too. The resulting album is a lot more funky, ballsy and swaggering than anything NE came up with, as was to be expected since Brown was rather vocal about resenting his (by the time of this album’s release former) group’s bubblegum image and sound, which is one of the reasons he got excommunicated by his mates in the first place. Brown appears to delight in his chance to be a grown up-type of soul singer, which results in a more than halfway decent album that’s a lot more expressive and a lot less gimmicky than what NE ever did. The comparison with Under the Blue Moon is especially beneficial (although that’s as much Under the Blue Moon‘s fault as it is King of Stage‘s merit.)

The appeal of this album is for the most part personality-based. Bobby isn’t the best singer or the best rapper around, nor is a he handed the most memorable set of songs to perform. It’s all in the fairly decent yet somewhat unremarkable zone. But then there’s Bobby’s undeniable natural charm and a boyish buoyance that do work some magic. Bob is a born entertainer. Though a confident performer he also appears to well know the limits of his gruff tenor. The vocalists that appear to inspire him are Rick James and James Brown, and though he’s nowhere near as talented as these two greats he does seem to have learnt the right lessons from them. Like the hardest working man in showbiz he punctuates his songs with the more-than-occasional joyous grunt.

Girlfriend, his first solo-single hit number one on the U.S. R&B charts when it came out and it’s a nice little ’70s inspired love song, complete with saucy sax and it would’ve slipped seamlessly onto either New Edition or All For LoveGirl Next Door is a synthy funk number that shows the Cameo influence while still allowing Bob’s individuality to shine through, and the same can be said for the similarly minded Baby I Wanna Tell You Something. On the title track Bob rhymes about over a Jam Master Jay-aping beat that appears to incorporate a James Brown vocal sample (Since this was released before the sample wars nobody is credited so one can never be sure.) Bouncy up-tempo cuts like Love Obsession and Your Tender Romance summon the mental image of Axel Foley driving his convertible through LA, and whether that works as a good thing you can make out for yourself.

Obvious missteps are Seventeen, a misguided stab social commentary on a girl getting off track and pregnant and on sex and drugs. It doesn’t only sound ridiculous and hypocritical coming from Bob, knowing that soon enough he himself would be off track and on drugs, but it also isn’t a very good song that tries to accomplish drama through crappy ’80s synths (Yes I am aware King of Stage was recorded in the ’80s), and the fairly boring ballad Spending Time that has Bob trying to breathe life into it with all his might, but accomplishing little but showing the limits of his vocal range.  As a whole however King of Stage works more often than it doesn’t.

Kudos to the people at MCA for having the sense to keep this album brief at nine songs and including mostly good ones to boot. Bobby’s debut is a pretty decent attempt at establishing a career and a musical identity outside of NE with songs such as King of Stage and Your Tender Romance, while still catering to the audience of his former group with Girlfriend and Girl Next Door. It may not have been the massive breakthrough hit he wanted, but it was succesful enough for the record label to let him record another album. And record another album he did, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

Best tracks
Girlfriend
Girl Next Door
King of Stage
Your Tender Romance

Recommendations
If you’re into ’80s R&B that may not be very substantial but does pack a punch, and you happen to come across this for a reasonable price a purchase may be in order.


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 – 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.