El DeBarge

Second Chance

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AllMusic Review by

El DeBarge was away longer than he was around. The first DeBarge album and the last El DeBarge album were separated by 13 years, and then 16 years passed between Heart, Mind & Soul and Second Chance. Apart from a handful of guest appearances during the latter half of the ‘90s and early 2000s, El was (to put it mildly) out of commission. So it’s extraordinary that this, his fifth solo album, exists. It’s something else that he’s in top form. Working with an assortment of mostly complementary collaborators, including Ron Fair, Mike City, Jam & Lewis, and the Avila Brothers, El tends to stick to sweet love songs -- pleasurable, fresh updates of his tried and true approach. His voice remains capable of elevating substandard material, not that there is much of it here. The acrobatic falsetto and supple harmonies are as present as ever. While the first ten songs would have made for a strong return on their own, the final three put Second Chance over the top as one of the year’s best R&B albums. The rippling “Sad Songs” and the sparse “The Other Side,” two of the three songs written with Jam & Lewis, illustrate heartbreak while tapping into a vivid anguish that El had never before approached. They are both exceptionally poignant; anyone with the vaguest idea about the singer's struggles will hear them as more than just remorseful breakup songs. In this context, the closing “Second Chance” -- issued as the album’s lead single -- sounds nothing short of triumphant. [Initial copies of the album, released in late November 2010, came with a three-song, Christmas-themed bonus disc.]

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