From perhaps the second most dysfunctional family in R&B – topping the Jackson clan will always take some doing – the DeBarge’s have never strayed far from the media spotlight since bursting onto the scene in the early Eighties with a string of commercially minded albums and cooler pop singles that have since found new admirers within the hip-hop community for their sample value. But with turbulent headlines that include assault, imprisonment for cocaine trafficking, an elopement and subsequently annulled marriage to Janet Jackson, and ultimately death, their story remains one of talent and ambition sadly unfulfilled.
The story of El DeBarge and his many siblings was recently told in illuminating clarity to audiences in the US via the highly enjoyable Unsung biographical TV series – hopefully a UK network will see the potential of this hugely entertaining slice of R&B history. But I digress, with Second Chance El returns to the recording arena with an album hoping to capitalise on past glories. He scored a couple of R&B hits in the ‘90s, first with Barry White, James Ingram and Al B. Sure as part of Quincy Jones’s “The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)”, and then with Fourplay on a deft cover of Marvin Gaye’s “After The Dance”. Lest we forget “Where Is My Love?” that he recorded with Babyface and has since been sampled to death by the hip-hop community. The billing of 50 Cent on “Format” and rapper Fabulous on the Doug E. Fresh parody “5 Seconds” is one of the reasons that he extends a hand to that genre, although the results, particularly on the former, are neither artist’s best work.
The vintage appeal on “Joyful”, “Close To You” and particularly “When I See You”, echo back to his family unit’s heyday with elements of “I Like It”, “All This Love” and “Time Will Reveal” in their DNA. Featuring the work of such legendary producer/songwriters as the aforementioned Babyface, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and new hit makers Mike City, the Avila Brothers and Michael Angelo – the opus tells the story of DeBarge’s redemption following a period of personal turmoil. Second Chance took on its full meaning when he began recording the title track, which became the first single, and has a Michael Jackson story telling quality to it. The new single, “Lay With You” features Faith Evans, and is another rhythm-smart toe-tapper that whilst still fairly middle-of-the-road clearly underscores why El DeBarge has emerged from the family as, far and away, the strongest of the unit’s solo performers.
A timeless sounding collection that offers vintage touches such as an Ernie Isley-styled guitar solo on “Heaven”, a melodic and clichéd feel to “Serenading” that’s only missing a Richard ‘Dimples’ Fields monologue to place it back in the Eighties, while “Sad Song” sounds like a lost master from Jam & Lewis to an S.O.S. Band session back in their prime.
Although the tempos never rise above head nodding, there’s a warm and comforting feel to El DeBarge’s voice (infusing classical jazz and love poetry in the form of an old school balladeer) displaying a crooning style that could nicely dovetail into the vacancy left by Michael Jackson. El’s voice is a beautiful instrument and on Second Chance he shows signs of what a huge artist he could’ve, or potentially, still could be, were it not for a lack of quality contemporary material.
About the Writer
Lewis Dene has been involved in the many facets of music business for over 20 years. As a music journalist he has previously written for Blues & Soul, Record Collector, Music Week and the BBC, in the process compiling and/or writing liner notes for over 200 CDs (including a number for SoulMusic Records). Lewis currently consults for Kings Of Spins and is a resident DJ for Hed Kandi in America.