Alexander O’Neal: ‘Hearsay’ and ‘Live At The Hammersmith Apollo’

 

Sorry for the crappy quality. And that's just the sound of the CD on the right.
Sorry for the crappy quality. And that’s just the sound of the CD on the right.

 

Back in the eighties and nineties Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were my personal heroes. Up there with Mark Fisher, Neil Armstrong and Juri Gagarin. To those not acquainted with these musical demigods, the two are buddies from uni who ended up in a band in Minneapolis called ‘The Time’ – essentially an outlet of Prince’s songwriting material that didn’t make it onto his own albums (he apparently doesn’t sleep much) – with Jellybean Johnson and Morris Day. After becoming independent producers, they pretty much were responsible for creating the ‘Minneapolis Sound’ (together with their tiny ex-boss) and made a gazillion of albums with some more or less talented vocalists. Imagine the Stock/Aitken/Waterman model, just with better music and artists. They could do no wrong (and mostly didn’t). Their sound was instantly recognisable though changed quite significantly throughout the decades. Just for academic purposes, compare the S.O.S. Band’s ‘Just be good to me’ with Janet Jackson’s ‘ ‘Rhythm Nation’ and The Human League’s ‘Human’:

 

Why is this in anyway relevant to this entry? Good question. I might have just got carried away a bit. Well, the point I was trying to make that in the mid eighties these guys were on the ascent to mega-oodle stardom, and on the way produced an album for local singer Alexander O’Neal. Now if you ask me, this is one of the best albums that Jam/Lewis ever made. The up-tempo numbers (Fake/Critize) were unique in both in their chord structure and production and sounded like nothing before. The ballads were engaging and not too boring, and giving it a narrative (from the beginning to the end of a party at O’Neal’s house) makes it even eligible for the seventies moniker of ‘concept album’.

You get it: I like it. It’s one of my most played CDs and it shows. It’s falling apart, there’s beer stains all over it (from numerous DJ gigs) and it’s full of scratches. But to this day, it’s unique and a bright star on Flytetime’s echelon.

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Which brings us to the other CD in this little feature. I was actually quite excited when I saw that this CD existed as I saw the chap live in 1994 with the best brother ever (BBE). This was a great night, with even the BBE shimmying around like a 17 year old. How times have changed. ‘Live at the Hammersmith Apollo’ is O’Neal’s attempt to get some extra dollars from a singular concert in London in 2005. This is a 2 CD set with 14 songs from his first three albums, with most of the ‘Hearsay’ album all present and accounted for. Once you pop the CD in the player, the first you notice is the terrible sound. I am really wondering whether they literally just took the feed of the desk without any editing afterwards. During the introduction the musical director of the show mentions they have an 18 piece band on stage, but they get lost: it’s one big, gooey ghastly sounding mess. I could accept this from a bootleg, but not from something I actually paid money for. Unfortunately once O’Neal does appear there is no improvement. Quickly running out of steam, his fake laugh and painful attempts at banter do annoy quickly. What really pissed me off the most was the ruining of what were supposed to be the highlights of the CD: ‘Critize’ and ‘Fake’ are both up-tempo funk numbers with great harmonies, really showcasing the Jam/Lewis songwriting brillance, but on this record the chord structure has been simplified (or maybe one of the 18 musicians is playing it, but with this sound you certainly can’t pick it up) and some random heavy metal solos ruin it further.

One to avoid like the plague.

The Steel City Tour at the Hammersmith Apollo

Last night the best girlfriend and I went to see ABC, Heaven 17 and The Human League for their inaugural Steel City Tour at the Hammersmith Apollo, that lovely hall next to a motorway in London’s sunny West. I din’t expect the place to be packed, but it certainly was: 5000 happy middle aged punters in a more or less exciteable state made the shabby old place vibrate with joy.

The gig started with ‘Heaven 17’:  the kernel of the British Electric Foundation were in good spirit with Glenn Gregory in fine vocal form and Martyn Ware happily plonking away at the keyboards. They were accompanied by a teenager behind a toy drum kit (well, one of those electronic drum pad thingies), an incredibly bored guitarist with two Macbooks  and two female background singers who could probably be their daughters.Let me go, Come live with me, crushed by the wheels of industry where all delivered in fine form, but unfortunately both ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ and ‘Temptation’ suffered from early nineties dancefloor treatment, making the original songs not quite unrecognisable but barely palatable. Unfortunately the mix was disastrous, with Ware’s keyboard chords completely vanishing behind the (admittedly excellent) vocal performances. So far so good.

ABC (or Martin Fry with a bunch of session musicians, to be exact) was in usual fine form: it seem that the bloke playing lead guitar for him and the percussionist/female lead vocalist have now been the same for the last 3 gigs I have seen them, so at least he doesn’t always have to get to get used to new twentysomethings in his band. As usual he had to get 3 tracks of his new album ‘Traffic in, but apart from that, it was the usual assortment of splendid hits from ‘Lexicon of Love’ and  Alphabet City
. Well deserved applause, even though there was no Gold Lame Suit in site.

After a brief reorganising of stages the headliners of the evening: The Human League in it’s third decade presents itself quite chipper, with a stage right out of a Kraftwerk gig, although what the weird little man in the pirate costume and the guitar was doing on stage I will never find out, but he certainly ruined the carefully crafted picture of understated elegance. There was plenty of things to shout about: the sound, the beautiful white instruments, the costumes and Phil Oakeys voice were all top notch. A good mix between crowd pleasures (Mirror Man, Electric Dreams, Don’t you want me, Being boiled) and some obscure fare delighted everybody. The only person not having any fun was poor Joanne Catherall, who obviously had a bad night: she looked unhappy in her corner of the stage, and I could have sworn she wasn’t well.

So, a bunch of middle aged people were entertained by a bunch of middleaged people on a stage. 3 hours of fun and sing a long. What else could you want?