Alexander O’Neal – All True Man (1991): Review

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Produced by Jam and Lewis
Label – Tabu

By 1991 Alexander O’Neal and loyal writers and producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis probably realised the tide was turning for solo macho soul and R&B lover men. The inexhaustible and inevitable rise of Hip Hop in Afro American pop culture made the “Soul Train” era artists seem like a venerable fossil from another time. The excellent predecessor to this, “Hearsay” from 1987 was an album chocked full of songs of romance, trust and disregarding the opinions of others. Move forward four years and the title track “All True Man” harks back to those days, magically recreating that distinctive combination of deep slow burning bass rhythms, tingling vibraphones and O’Neal’s powerful baritone. It’s the highlight of an album that’s caught in the creative headlights between hanging on to the safety of what brought him success, and tentatively dipping his toes into new themes that take on social conscience, racial intolerance and political oppression. The result is a mixed message, inconsistent collection that fortunately comes to life in the second half of the LP, when O’Neal returns to his more familiar roots. It’s possible that Jam & Lewis were hoping to replicate the success they’d enjoyed from Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814” by introducing more widespread, social issue based content, but Alex is from the classic school of sweaty Barry White interpreters, where the subject matter of the song benefits from residing somewhere near the bedroom, or preferably in it.

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To artificially inflate this “new found” recognition of the ills that fill this world, Jam & Lewis employ huge stomping drum rhythms that envelop everything (including melodies) and O’Neal’s voice suddenly seems strained as he attempts to compete on the opener, “Time Is Running Out”. This industrial, clunky sound continues on “The Yoke (G.U.O.T.R) , with added murky vocal samples and messages that suggest we throw the weight of oppression from our shoulders. Fortunately, “All True Man” comes as a terrific relief and the remainder of the album sees O’Neal returning to more traditional territory with positive effect. “Sentimental” is overly gooey but is naturally heartfelt, and beautifully arranged. The orchestral backing for “What Is This Thing Called Love?” adds gravity and blends with O’Neal’s croon perfectly, and the closer, “Shame On Me” shimmers a dreamlike ambiance as it gently fades out. It’s all a welcome recovery from the awkward, unconvincing modernist attempts at the start of the record.

“All True Man” initially finds Alexander O’Neal clumsily attempting to compete with the New Jack Swingers. Fortunately half way through the record he reverts to type and delivers half a great album.

6/10

Track Rating
1 – Time Is Running Out – 5
2 – The Yoke (G.U.O.T.R.) – 5
3 – Every Time I Get Up – 6
4 – Somebody (Changed Your Mind) – 5
5 – Midnight Run – 6
6 – Used – 6
7 – All True Man – 8
8 – Sentimental – 7
9 – What Is This Thing Called Love? – 7
10 – The Morning After – 7
11 – Hang On – 7
12 – Shame On Me – 7

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