Review Summary: A triumphant album from one of the most forceful and expressive vocalists in soul music.
Though some may recognize the name from his feature on Cherrelle's smash hit “Saturday Love,” for the uninitiated, Alexander O'Neal is a lesser-known vocalist from Mississippi who came up in the Minneapolis scene. After both being kicked from The Time by Prince, O'Neal and production duo Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis began working together in the mid-'80s, making three albums of quality post-disco music before parting ways in the early '90s. Hearsay is the second of these albums, and the most acclaimed, capturing O'Neal's passion with startling clarity. By blending the emerging new jack sound with a boogie palette, Jam & Lewis crafted a slab of '80s soul that expertly balances with O'Neal's unique, energetic vocal style. Yes, even during its less-than-perfect moments--this record is seriously electric.
What can I say to make you love me?
From a technical standpoint, Hearsay is basically a masterpiece. I mean, Jam & Lewis are living legends for a reason. All the sounds here are bold and know exactly where they're supposed to be, what they're supposed to be doing... Even if you just checked the intros to a handful of these tracks, I'd consider my review a success--there's little else that makes my heart soar like a good, cathartic intro to an oldskool tune, and many of the tracks here are on-par with or better than what the era had to offer as far as that goes. But you'd be missing out on what ties the production together to make this album so incredible. O'Neal's performance is magnificent, fusing all the best parts of Chicago and New York with a shot of southern gospel to deliver a unique vocal style that'll stop you in your tracks. This guy's got pipes!
The album flow of Hearsay is quirky, to say the least. There are many interludes and skits throughout, but they're distinct enough to add flavor and break up the tracklist, a technique that can be hit or miss for me, personally. I'll admit I didn't love them all on first listen, but after additional spins, these pieces fell into place more smoothly, giving character (and concept) to an album that's colorful to begin with. Adding this quality to a modest runtime of 45 minutes makes Hearsay an irresistible jam.
Whether through skits, sentimental ballads, or energetic dance bombs, the album tells tales of love, lust, heartbreak, and miscommunication. Hardly new themes for r&b, but O'Neal's delivery of these stories is so earnest and spirited, the production accompanying them so pure, that if you close your eyes, it sounds like you're there in the studio as it was being recorded. Truly remarkable.
If you don't already appreciate this kind of music, Hearsay might not make you a fan. But for those that like to boogie down, vibe, cry, or wave their hands in the air like they just don't care, this one's for you.