(5 / 5)
I defy anyone to stick a fruit pastel sweet in their mouth, and not chew. To sit in front of the TV when the X Factor is on and not lob the remote at the screen or turn to another channel in a heartbeat.
Or to hear the classic 1980s Alexander O’Neal hit “Criticize” and not be humming, whistling or singing the damn chorus an hour or more later! The veteran and much-loved soul artist is still out there doing his thang to packed houses and is currently celebrating the 30th anniversary of his smash hit album, “Hearsay”.
In fact, he’s only gone and flipping well re-recorded all the fab tracks on it, all nine of ‘em, and releases this spanking new collection in two days time, 24 days before Christmas, hint, hint!
Alexander was back in the headlines and in our front rooms in 2015, as a contestant on the Channel 5 reality series Celebrity Big Brother. But he’d had enough by day 12 and quit the show. But music is where the man’s heart and head is really at, as we can testify by a listen to this superb new record. I say new; a reworking of all the cuts on the original “Hearsay”, but recorded today in 2017 and given a new lease of life – and a ‘30’ added to the title for good measure.
All new vocals and a nine-piece band, the album renamed “Hearsay 30” to mark the three decades that have passed since the original album dropped and shot Alexander to fame over here and in his native USA. The tracks “What Can I Say (To Make You Love Me?)”, “The Lovers”, “Never Knew Love Like This” and “Fake” were lifted from this album and became hits for him.
But it was his much loved and now classic single “Criticize” that really did it for him over here. Peaking at # 4 in the UK singles charts and never off the radio back in the day. Still getting spins on radio all over the place today and still packing dance floors.
The original album sold more than a million copies back then and hit the US Billboard chart at # 29, and # 2 on the US R&B/Hip Hop chart. Recorded in Minneapolis in 1987, written and produced by mega producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
He released 14 singles that entered the Top 40 charts in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s. Including his solo singles, “If You Were Here Tonight”, “Fake”, “Criticize”, “The Lovers”, “(What Can I Say) To Make You Love Me”, “The Christmas Song”, “All True Man”, “Love Makes No Sense” and “In the Middle”. He is also known for duets with fellow R&B singer Cherrelle, such as “Saturday Love” and “Never Knew Love Like This”.
Alexander O’Neal was born in November 1953 in Natchez, Mississippi, a few months after his father was killed. After graduating from high school, he attended Alcorn University. At 20, he relocated to Minneapolis, where he performed with several bands and then became a member of Flyte Tyme.
A band which included Monte Moir, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. His self-titled debut album dropped in 1985 Since then, he has released eight studio albums, six compilation albums and one live album. In 1981, O’Neal was signed by Prince to the Warner Bros. label and the band name was changed to the Time. Following an alleged disagreement with Prince, O’Neal left the band and was replaced as lead singer by Morris Day.
O’Neal subsequently formed an R&B band called Alexander and recorded a couple of 12″ singles for a Chicago-based independent label. In 1984, O’Neal signed a deal with Tabu Records. He did some backing vocals for other artists on the same label, including The S.O.S. Band and Cherrelle.
His debut album included three singles that reached the Top 20 of the R&B Singles Chart. The same year, he also scored his first R&B Top 10 single with “Saturday Love”, a duet with Cherrelle. The song “Saturday Love” peaked at No. 2, and also reached the Top 10 of the UK Singles Chart, peaking at No. 6.
“Hearsay” eventually certifying as triple platinum, and spawning seven charting singles. “Fake” became a UK Top 40 hit twice, first in 1987 followed by a remix (“Fake ’88”) in 1988. The “Hit Mix” (a megamix of O’Neal’s greatest hits to date) reached the UK Top 20 in December 1989. O’Neal also recorded a Christmas album, “My Gift to You”, released in December 1988.
In 1991, O’Neal released his fourth album, “All True, Man”. The album’s title-track reached No. 5 on the R&B chart and No. 45 on the pop chart. The album was another success in the UK, peaking at No. 2. In 1992, his first greatest hits album, “This Thing Called Love: The Greatest Hits of Alexander O’Neal”, became another Top 5 success in the UK.
In 1993, O’Neal’s final album with the Tabu label, “Love Makes No Sense”, was released. This was the first album made without production from Jam and Lewis. It reached the UK Top 20 and two singles from the album reached the UK Top 40. In 1995, another greatest hits compilation, “The Best of Alexander O’Neal”, was released.
In 1996, his first album with One World Records, “Lovers Again”, was released. The single “Let’s Get Together” reached the UK Top 40. In 2001, he released an album on Eagle Records, “Saga of a Married Man”. The album was produced by former Prince drummer, Bobby Z. In 2005, he recorded his first live album, “Alexander O’Neal Live at Hammersmith Apollo”. In 2008, O’Neal released “Alex Loves…”, his first studio album in six years. The album peaked at No. 49 in the UK, and was his first charting album of new material in 15 years.
The new version of “Hearsay” was recorded in Manchester, UK – where Alexander has been based for the last few months – with his nine piece band, Mamma Freedom. Produced by another Alexander, a Mr Johnston. A fine job he did too.
The other more famous Alexander says he was thrilled when he heard the new recordings for the first time. “It felt incredible, man. I never expected we could create something so special, it’s certainly one of the things I am most proud of in my career to date”.
Alexander is due back into the studio early in 2018 to cut a new record, called “Resurrected”, and he is due to hit the road again for the “Resurrected Tour”, which takes in a date at the hallowed London Palladium, where he will be delivering all the hits from “Hearsay” and “Hearsay 30” and airing brand new material from his new 2018 album. The tour calls in at Glasgow, Salford, Hull, Southend, Bristol, Birmingham, Leicester and London between 6th and 25th of April.
The new recordings put a slightly different twist on the songs, and amazingly at 64-years-old he sings the songs in the same keys as he did three decades ago. But they have not messed around with the arrangements too much, so we can still instantly recognise those great tunes.
The original version had an “Intro” at tracks # one and # seven, at 35 and 28 seconds duration, which are gone on the new version. “Criticize” kicks off the new one, whereas it came in at track number six on the original. “What Can I Say (To Make You Love Me)”, becomes “(What Can I Do) To Make You Love Me”. There are other position changes from the original to today’s version too. But all the songs from back in the day are here in 2017.
His voice is remarkable for 64, and there’s no wobbly vibrato often associated with elderly singers, male or female, from wear and tear on their instrument. Try playing the same guitar for 40+ years without re-fretting and re-stringing it, and see how it sounds without TLC!
No weakness, no lowering the key or avoiding the higher end of the register. No pressing the “talent button” to hide the vocal in lots of reverb and chorus/delay (echo) effects. He sounds hardly any different to when these songs were filling clubs around the world in the 1980s. That growl is still there. The soul-soaked smoothness on the slower stuff is still there too.
They’ve funked up “Criticize” a tad, and given it a bit of a dramatic vibe. His vocal does get a bit overpowered by the music in one section, which is down to the mix, but overall, it is bloody great to hear this song again and in the new freshened up version. There’s that old saying; if it ain’t bust, don’t fix it, but value has definitely been added here..
I LOVE what they’ve done with “(What Can I Do) To Make You Love Me”. I bet this one really kicks ass today live, with the new version. Fabulous orchestral style arrangement to it, from the synths and samples. The title cut slows the pace down a bit, and uses a subtle spot of Vocoder effect on his vocal, bang on trend and works well on this song. Keyboard horn parts where I’d like to have heard real horns.
Wow! The ballad “Sunshine” is gorgeous. Dare I say it is better than the original? Well, I just did. Here is where his vocal would be exposed if it were frayed round the edges from wear and tear. Not so.
The big one, “Fake” is an anthemic vibe. What a killer song this was and is. Doesn’t sound dated in any way at all. Could be another hit in 2017/2018, with a slick radio edit, to my ears. Hire a decent well connected radio plugger and job’s a good un! His vocal phrasing is SO cool. The O’Neal attitude is still there. Great drum track. Nice clavinet low in the bed of the track. The snyth’ horns work well on this one.
“Crying Overtime” is a sweet ballad that’s a good fit for Alexander’s smooth soulful pipes, and as a singer he makes it sound easy – as natural as breathing. For him, it probably is. “The Lovers”, is a pretty song, some very nice piano work and the backing vocals add tremendous value. Alexander’s vocals are on-point and his blending with the BVs is another example of his skills.
“Never Knew Love Like This”, really is a great piece of songwriting and here he duets with Kristin Hosein, who does a marvellous job. Palpable chemistry between the two voices. The closer “When The Party’s Over” is as good a job as the original too, and completes the set here. 36.38 minutes in total.
Alexander O’Neal is an artist who was born too late. If he had been around and doing his cool and soulful thing at least two decades earlier, he’d surely have become a global superstar. Like Edwin Starr, both fantastic singers and artists, but neither had the level of success that their peers such as Otis, Marvin and Smokey did. But Alexander’s voice and his talents were more than enough to justify superstar status, even if sustained commercial success wasn’t there.
Wonder how many adults of circa 30 years old today, were actually conceived to the seductive tones of Mr Alexander O’Neal and his original album “Hearsay”? Wouldn’t it be cool to have a few rows of seats filled with those guys and gals – and their parents – at Alex’s concerts next Spring, and a meet & greet with the star too? There’s a TV project that’d give a researcher a big headache, but it’d make great television…”Surprise Surprise!!!”
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’