mon 22/07/2019

CD: The O'Jays - The Last Word | reviews, news & interviews

CD: The O'Jays - The Last Word

CD: The O'Jays - The Last Word

Philadelphia Sound leading lights call time on their own terms

A final chance to ruminate on the state of the world: The O'Jays

How to put a full-stop on an over 50 year recording career? For multiple Music Hall of Fame-rs The O’Jays, the answer includes a party track penned by Bruno Mars, a reworked 60s single and a final chance to ruminate on the state of the world. The appropriately-named The Last Word packs a lot into a mere nine songs, and while the result is a bit of a mixed bag, it’s great to see one of the leading lights of the Philadelphia sound call time on a storied career on their own terms.

The Last Word finds the trio - founding members Walter Williams and Eddie Levert plus Eric Grant, who joined in 1995 - by turns upbeat and contemplative, and sometimes both at the same time. Lead single and album opener “I Got You” pairs an absolute ear worm of a groove with what sounds like meditations on US and global politics; and “Do You Really Know How I Feel” provides possibly the most upbeat-sounding analysis of housing segregation ever committed to tape. The Bruno Mars contribution, “Enjoy Yourself”, folds the magnificent line “hit the fast forward button on this love remote to us sipping champagne on somebody’s boat” into a fairly forgettable jazzy melody; while two tracks along “Above The Law” considers racial inequality in the US justice system.

The upbeat numbers work best: the rasp of age in the trio’s vocals give the lyrics of an otherwise peppy song like “I Got You” the added gravitas they need, and turn the otherwise forgettable “’68 Summer Nights” into a nostalgic trip. The O’Jays have toured fairly extensively since the release of their last new recorded music in 2004, which gives the album’s more politically-charged numbers a pointed feel even if their placement seems at times incongruous. It’s hard to resist a dig at “the wall” from the band who provided the theme to the US version of The Apprentice, after all.

But the last word on The Last Word goes to a re-recorded “I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow”, the group’s first top 10 single on the Billboard R&B chart back in 1967. “I was a young man when we recorded this song,” says Levert, in a new spoken-word intro, “I didn’t know what sweeter was.” In this context the lyrics sound like a promise - and a passing of the torch.

Below: Hear The O'Jays' "I Got You"

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