The Last Word
The O’Jays – legendary voices behind Backstabbers, Now That We Found Love, Livin’ For The Weekend, Unity, Love Train and many others – are calling it a day. The band has been at it for six decades, its principal voices are in their eighth decades. They bow out gracefully with The Last Word – a brand new set of studio recordings that is gimmick free. No celeb duets, no clever touch-ups or re-castings (apart from a closing rendition of 1967’s I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow).
This is the sort of comeback/victory lap you could only ever hope for from a band like this. It’s their first non-Christmas album in 15 years, which makes it easily their best record in two decades, minimum.
Eddie Levert and Walter Williams – the two surviving founding members – are in as fine voice as can be expected. Eric Nolan Grant – who has been with the band a quarter-century now – sounds great too.
But what really makes this magic is the return to the winning formula – The O’Jays are political but they still wanna sing you sweet love songs. Sometimes in the same tune.
It’s the instant return to their classic “Philly Soul” sound that immediately satiates. Opener, I Got You, is like a warm bath with a glass of bubbles.
Apparently the story goes: Sam Hollander (producer and ghost-writing partner for the likes of Panic! At The Disco and One Direction) made contact after hearing about the group’s planned retirement. He asked to produce their final album. Their reply: What final album?
Next thing Hollander is working the angles to make it all happen – and on Stand Up (Show Love) you can actually hear all the things he brings to the table with his modern pop acts and the full respect to and adherence of the classic Philly Soul sound and principles.
From there this is a short, sharp thrill-ride of too-good late-career gems.
Above The Law has a hook you could imagine from vintage Temptations or Marvin Gaye. The nostalgic ’68 Summer Nights opens with a slick guitar lick drenched in strings the way so many Spinners/O’Jays gems did back in ’68 and through the 70s.
But it’s not just nostalgia. Several of the tunes here (Start Stoppin’, Enjoy Yourself, Do You Really Know How I Feel) might take you there, as it were, but they don’t rely on only the familiarity of a production trope; these are great new songs.
Just wonderful stuff.
Nine songs, 36 minutes. Perfect. No chaff. No duds. Just all class here.
One of the finest farewells you could hope for – all the best to the sublime O’Jays.
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