Billy Ocean - One World (2020)

Billy Ocean
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Billy Ocean - One World

When Billy Ocean became an international superstar in 1984 with hits such as “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)” and “Suddenly,” the Trinidad native had already paid his dues for over a decade on the British soul scene, releasing his share of both successes (“Love Really Hurts Without You,” “Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)”) and misses. On his eleventh studio album, One World, the tenderly soulful vocalist eschews any grand gestures for commercial purposes in favor of simple song structure and heartfelt delivery.

Billy Ocean - One World

When Billy Ocean became an international superstar in 1984 with hits such as “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)” and “Suddenly,” the Trinidad native had already paid his dues for over a decade on the British soul scene, releasing his share of both successes (“Love Really Hurts Without You,” “Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)”) and misses. On his eleventh studio album, One World, the tenderly soulful vocalist eschews any grand gestures for commercial purposes in favor of simple song structure and heartfelt delivery.

Produced by longtime collaborator Barry J. Eastmond, One World doesn’t necessarily break new musical ground; but, in an era cluttered with phony lyrical eccentricities and musical posturing, it serves a worthwhile purpose with well-founded, authentic arrangements and a straightforward message of positivity. The foundation of soul shines through in the rhythm section and horn arrangements, while elements of reggae, pop, and jazz seep through via Ocean’s velvet phrasing and universally minded words. The passages in songs like “All Over the World” and the title track border on clichéd at times; but they are a welcome respite from the overly self-conscious jargon of much contemporary fare striving for edginess.

The variety of rhythms and tempos found on One World bring out a pleasing color palette from Ocean’s vocal canvas, accentuating his penchant for embodying the feel and essence of songs on a deeper than surface level. His previous exploration of genres on overlooked LP’s like 1993’s Time to Move On and 2009’s Because I Love You has seasoned his present approach, resulting in an organic style that can resonate across a number of demographics.

The first half of One World bears the album’s most colorful and varied selections. The opening “We Gotta Find Love” engages with a riveting drum groove and rhythmically percolating vocal passages enhancing the fluid pop/R&B structure of zesty synth work, seeping guitar licks, and reflective string lines. At an easy-grooving midtempo pace, the moody “Feel the World” snakes along with an alluring bass line and atmospheric keyboards underpinning Ocean’s gentle caressing of the verses and supple chorus delivery. The feel-good stride of “When I Saw You” is embedded with nuances of ‘80s funk and new jack swing, while shining the spotlight on Billy’s bright phrasing and standout female backing vocals. Subsequently, a calypso-steeped arrangement fuels the impassioned “Mystery.”

One World’s second half centers more around slower jams, but still dabbles in several styles while maintaining a consistently good-natured vibe. “Missing You Every Day” is a ’60s-fashioned soul ballad; “Can’t Stand the Pain” has a bluesy quality to its chugging soul strut; and “All over the World” takes stride in a reggae-infused sway. While Billy interprets each of these tunes with appealing aplomb, the songs themselves aren’t as distinctive as the aforementioned entries from the first half of the set. The strongest cut during this portion of the album is, in fact, the closing ballad, “Nothing Will Stand in Our Way.” Fans of his signature romantic slow jams from the ‘80s such as “There’ll Be Sad Songs (to Make You Cry)” and “The Colour of Love” will appreciate the earnest sensitivity of his performance and the musical accompaniment here. There’s nothing complex about the melody or lyrics; they are simply timeless and relatable.

One World marks a welcome return of Ocean to the fold of recording original material (his last album, Here You Are, was comprised of covers). Without sacrificing his musical compass and central message, he successfully emerges with a well-rounded collection of relevant material that impressively makes no concessions to momentary trends in order to sound fresh and modern. The songs speak for themselves; combined with Billy’s finesse, fine playing by real musicians, and Eastmond’s shrewd production, it’s a solid bet for continuing to grow Ocean’s fan base. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 

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