El DeBarge: Second Chance
On new album in over 16 years, El DeBarge defines what a R&B comeback should really feel like
Some thought it couldn’t be done. Eldra DeBarge, the former lead singer of ‘80’s family group DeBarge and responsible for some of hip-hop’s notorious hits courtesy of sampling, had hit a career low when a twenty-year drug habit, along with a two-year prison sentence and a few legal battles overshadowed the promise of a desirable return to his former glory.. All of this, including a sixteen year reprieve from music, made it even harder to stage the comeback his fans only dreamed of, but one moment changed everything. Even when Geffen announced their signing of DeBarge and advanced copies of his first single, “Second Chance,” unveiled his familiar silky three-octave range and his timeless Marvin Gaye-esque falsetto, it still wasn’t enough to accept. Who could imagine DeBarge, now 49, returning to their work ethic, stronger than before, with sixteen years of silence on their resume? Critics were already bamboozled over Whitney Houston’s “comeback” album, I Look To You. Albeit a decent project, her diminished vocals – a result from years of excessive drug abuse – produced a lackluster effect paling in comparison to the output released during Houston’s reign. Unless you’re a rock ‘n roll singer depending on a gruffy, coarse vocal to get by, torturous drug abuse is nothing but moprhine on a singing career. With Houston’s problem still looming over her career, DeBarge, another R&B legend on the banks of a comeback, had much more to prove. And that he did.
All doubts were quenched when DeBarge revealed his reinvigorated love for the stage and a revived exuberant persona at the BET Awards. Dressed in black and skin as smooth and shiner than ever, as if he was the celebrant of the hour, Debarge blazed through a medley of memory-lane classics like “I Like It,” “All This Love,” “Time Will Reveal” and “Rhythm of the Night,” without one sign of fatigue. And then, with the grandeur of a gospel singer, he shared his testimonial hymn “Second Chance” with the beaming audience. To our surprise, DeBarge was back and was out to prove, using exceptional plugging skills, that there was more where that came from.
Another Chance, DeBarge’s highly-anticipated fourth solo project, is as strong as DeBarge has ever been, at least on his own. With DeBarge co-writing much of the material, the album does re-introduce familiar DeBarge patterns, but the rich formula of strong R&B standouts and melodic embraces on top of DeBarge’s impeccable vocals gives him the justice and the much-needed update he deserves. Complimentary production from seasoned producers and songwriters like the Avila Brothers, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Michael Angelo, Mishke and Mike City -mindful of DeBarge’s style – help provide the nurturing atmosphere for so much potential. But the voice, clear and bursting with youthfulness, is where the album illuminates the most. They surround him with Ne-Yo sonics (“Heaven”), delicate Phyllis Hyman suites (“Joyful”) and Maxwell-channeled slow jams (“The Other Side”). And all the while, Debarge attacks the songs with excellent precision and such sensuality.
Obvious stand outs like the Faith Evans-guested, opening midtempo groove “Lay With You” and the smooth adult contemporary luster of “Close to You” are bound to penetrate radio, but DeBarge should have no problem introducing the bulk of the material when performing live – since the songs are exceptionally give fans of DeBarge what they’ve been waiting for after all these years. “How Can You Love Me” is so reminiscent of “All This Love” that it could be the perfect segue in a live show. And “When I See You” grips the sexy falsetto magic and acoustic guitar spells of Robin Thicke, one of DeBarge’s closest emulators, and even retracts the familiarity of Kem’s “gurll” chants. Unlike Kem’s forceful landings on the term, Debarge takes it nice and slow.
Rappers 50 Cent and Fabolous visit the set to show their love to one of hip-hop’s biggest excavations; presenting credible doses of urban cool alongside DeBarge’s breezy vocals. The presence of 50 on the radio-ready “Format” and Fabolous on the “Diddy-meets-112” sounding “5 Seconds” compliment DeBarge’s romantic flirts. As guests, the emcees never overstep their boundaries; providing appropriate protocol to the host while giving the songs that extra burst of enthusiasm.
To say there isn’t a dud on Second Chance would be a bold assessment to make, but DeBarge turns B-side material like “Sexy Lady” into easy-listening experiences. And if we were to point out a possible flaw in the system, there are an over abundance of midtempo ballads bearing similar production patterns in the middle, but the mood changes when “5 Seconds” enters the mix. Knowing where to place moodchangers are important on a comeback like this. In DeBarge’s case, it was a “make-or-break” moment that, luckily, worked in his favor.
No doubt, DeBarge has been a surreal influence on the smooth grooves dominating much of modern R&B – from pop-nurtured R&B acts like Usher to Trey Songz to blue-eyed soul activists like Robin Thicke and Mayer Hawthorne. To see him reclaim his throne amongst a younger set of balladeers and crooners, sixteen years since Mind, Body & Soul, breaths new life into the Eurhythmics proverb: “Sweet dreams are made of these/Who am I to disagree?”
J MATTHEW COBB
- Release Date: 30 November 2010
- Label: Geffen/Interscope
- Producers: Avila Brothers, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Mike City, Michael Angelo, Mishke
- Track Favs: Lay With You, Format, Heaven, The Other Side, Second Chance