O'Neal, one of the Minneapolis funk posse, was the singer for the Time prior to Morris Day. His latest album, which finds him working once again with producers-writers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, merits the same critical sticker as its predecessors: uneven but often delightful.
"Time Is Running Out" slams you down harder than the Ultimate Warrior on a rampage, but it's repetitive; the same could be said of "The Yoke (Get Up on the Rhythm)," with its industrial-strength bass. These constitute powerful, rudimentary grooves, but they're about a dozen notes shy of being songs.
Don't worry. Jam and Lewis, who double-handedly allowed Janet Jackson
to camp out atop the charts for four years, haven't lost their writing touch entirely. They do, after all, provide O'Neal with the smashing single "All True Man."
Even if the two of them couldn't write a lick, singers would still be lined up around the block to work with them, so polished is their studio style. Songs such as the woofing and biting "Somebody (Changed Your Mind)" prove that Jam-Lewis remain one of the most innovative and accomplished production teams in black music.
O'Neal fares well on the handful of songs he created with other collaborators. One of the best-formed is "Everytime I Get Up" by Lance Alexander and Tony Tolbert. It's on this up-tempo ballad that O'Neal unleashes his most penetrating and artful vocals. "Midnight Run" by Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy sounds like the '70s group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes dragged into today's New Jack Swing era.
O'Neal has unusual versatility for a soul singer. His combination of firepower and feeling allows him to shine on a stylistic gamut of funk, rock and ballads. But the surprise here is his strong, gentle touch on the folky mood of "Shame on Me."
Overall, this album is worth investigating. O'Neal rarely misses, and even then, he doesn't miss by much. (Tabu/Epic)