He described this album as, quite literally, his second chance. He moved out to Hollywood from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and found himself just as hungry for a career as ever. He had been a distinctive voice with his family's group, DeBarge, in the 80s, and then had a great solo career in the early 90s, with his last release having been in 1994.
Then, after many bouts with the law and being given probation more times than I have ever heard of, he was incarcerated for two years for possession of crack and drug paraphernalia in 2008.
During that "depressing, very aggravating" time behind bars, he found himself completely unable to sing or write, and spent days praying and waiting for release. Naturally then, there was a lot pent up at the end, and this album provides his story of redemption.
Here's a little video to get us started, with his thoughts on recording. It boasts of two nominations, but I'm only seeing one on Grammy's site. *shrug* Maybe that was before the re-structuring.
The first song features one of my favorite ladies of R&B, Faith Evans. Here's the pretty simple studio-based video for "Lay With You."
"Heaven" feels like a much more modern song than I expected to hear at the beginning. He's got that falsetto thing going on though, and I think I've been transported back to the 80s. I get it - do what you know, and this is where he excelled back in the day. I swear I've heard this before though, but in a different song.
I have yet to hear much other than love/sex songs on this one, including the next track "Close To You." I think I've heard a parody of songs like these by my friends as NSP. I get it, you want the girl. She's soft and great and should melt for you. If you're just getting out of jail for two years and after being alone, yeah, you're probably looking for some loving. But don't tell me you're looking at this as God's gift to you with redemption then sing about this. Share your inspiration in other ways.
Oh 50 Cent! "Format" kicks off with a 50 appearance. And it's more about the girl. And.. no. God... no. There's autotune at work here, I swear. -_- It's slight, but the chorus is showing it. And for a guy that's been singing for 30+ years, I'm not sure how totally comfortable I am with his venture into more youthful lyrics, topics, or styles.
"When I See You" gives me hope for meaning with the guitar in the beginning alone, but you know it's going to be the same thing again. At least this time, it's hurt instead of love. Sorry y'all, I promise I'm starting to accept this as a regular R&B album and not the inspirational work I thought we were in for based on the description. Anywhos, this track as got this very simple salsa-ish beat to it, with a pretty guitar, but the strings and notes over it overpower what could be a very nice number. Over-produced.
Bringing in some nice piano, but still over-producing with those strings, is the next track, "How Can You Love Me." The falsetto is getting to me here. It's coming across as whiney instead of lovely. Okay, 10 more tracks to go.
"Serenading" at least has a really nice R&B beat, and holds back on the falsetto. It's more... we'll use romantic for the kids' sake. If he's looking to seduce the girl, this is probably more along the lines he wants to go in, instead of the previously mentioned numbers. A little more trashy, yet musically, a little more classy.
Um, love, "5 Seconds" should not be enough time to impress the girl. Fabolous is a guest artist on this one, but it doesn't enhance the track. I'm not just speaking from the subject matter at this point; it's just not well put-together and leaves a person going "ok......"
"Joyful" just as a cute kind of sound to it. The chorus actually has a choir sound to it - just the way the notes fall. It's a very simple, typical sounding melody, almost kid-like. Yet, there's some good adult sounds to the overall piece because of the voices. There may be hope here yet? I don't know. I'm just more okay with this than I have been most of the others.
The next song is back in the same vein as the others, but it seems a little more lovey and sweet, almost more toned down. "Sexy Lady," which... damn it. Okay, maybe I take back what I just said once we get to the second verse. He was easing into it I guess. But at least this one has a nice R&B real feel to it, and isn't overdone and horrible.
"Sad Songs" is basically what you'd expect, given this title. It lends itself to pretty great lyrics though, since he took that metaphorical nature of music and mind-workings together and created so pretty good imagery. "And the melody that I tend to play started when you left, in the key of loneliness."
Following this we have "The Other Side," which is probably the slowest, saddest sounding song on the album thus far. His voice doesn't totally reflect the pain that the music itself is trying to though. There's computerized synth sounds as the backbone to it, and it's just too much like a lullaby for too long to keep me interested. Then, about 2/3 of the way it, he gets this froggy sound to his falsetto that just buries it.
Finally, we get to the title track, "Second Chance."
Do I hear a little classical guitar coming in here? Ah, well, this is a new angle. "Silent Night," and yes, the Christmas song one. It's not labeled as a bonus track or anything on Spotify. Wow, wild to hear this on a regularly released album. This song lends itself well to his voice, though the drums that come in later are not entirely settling. It's a very nice adaptation though.
"Christmas Without You" has this great classic R&B feeling to it for holiday songs (God I hope someone out there knows what I'm talking about...). It's not exactly a Christmas standard, but it's got a good rhythm without being overwhelming, yet remaining heartfelt.
Finally, the last song is "Heart Full Of Love." This is probably another holiday-season song. It's not quite as enjoyable as the others, and I feel like a rather weak ending to an album. Too much echo. Just not feeling it at all.
So that's it.
Notice there's no Stuff I wouldn't mind hearing again section today? Yeah, I'm real sorry El, but I just wouldn't listen to any of this on a regular basis. It's just not that enjoyable of an album unless you're maybe in seduction mode. Otherwise, it's a lot of R&B songs that would have probably been more enjoyed in the early 90s with your other work.
Is there a place for this kind of music anymore? Maybe for the fans from earlier on that always cared, but not for mainstream or even avid music listeners today. I don't think it fits. I could even go out on a limb and say that I think the Grammy nod was a gift for a comeback, not a reward for a wonderful album. But hey, maybe that's just me.