Al B. Sure! – Missunderstanding (1990)

I’m pretty sure I’ve gone into this in detail before, but if I’m wrong, and haven’t explicitly stated this already, I’ll do it here: I’ve got a tremendous soft spot for the (mostly also very soft) R&B of the late ’80s. There’s something about the sound of those records that I think we all took for granted at the time, but I now regard as thoroughly unique and forever lost to the sands of time. I’m not sure what that “something” is, but I do know that I think it hit its peak in 1987, also known as the year The System struck gold with “Don’t Disturb This Groove” and Al B. Sure! hit with “Nite and Day.”

Oh, Al B. Sure! — those eyebrows, that stupid name, those nonsensically titled albums, those eyebrows — there’s so much to make fun of today, but give the man his due: He showed up, released one great new jack swing record, and when the followups tanked, he quickly moved behind the scenes, where he has apparently been fairly busy. (Residents of Oakland, are you aware that October 19th is “Al B. Sure! Day” in your city?)

So, in sum, Al B. Sure! made some very good R&B recordings. Unfortunately for today’s entry, he made them all before 1990.

I have no idea if this is really true, but it seems like it should be, so I’m going to say that “Missunderstanding” was the precursor to Al B.’s long-awaited and highly anticipated return to record-making after a three-year layoff between albums. The album it came from, titled Private Times…and the Whole 9!, was a classic example of an artist trying to follow up a successful debut with something bigger in every way, but — as someone from Warner Bros. should have told him — bigger isn’t necessarily better. Private Times is fifteen songs long, and we’re talking fifteen actual songs, most of them over five minutes in length — including a cover of “Hotel California” which could be charitably described as ill-advised.

“Missunderstanding” (download), the leadoff single, went all the way to #1 on the R&B charts (hear the single’s radio edit, and B-side, here [download], but stalled outside the Top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100. R&B fans’ continued patience helped Private Times reach gold certification, but enough of those copies were returned to make the album a used-bin staple throughout the first half of the decade. Al released another album two years later, but the audience had moved on; soon enough, he wisely did the same.

Just to be clear, I’m saying Sure! was wise to move on not because he lacked talent, but because R&B trends are viciously brief, and trying to keep up with them is usually a losing battle. Rather than stooping to MC Hammer-type pandering, B. just took his name off the marquee and turned himself into a corporation. Smart.

Would that we could only say the same for the clothes being worn in this video: