To anyone born after, say, 1979, the name Al B. Sure! is probably meaningless — a seemingly random jumble of words and punctuation that’s dated about as well as the silky New Jack Swing that Al helped popularize. But to those of us who lived through Mr. Sure!’s brief time in the spotlight, the name is a magic reminder of his feathery, synth-coated hits, and a time when all you needed to be a certified loverman was a healthy set of eyebrows, a closet full of parachute pants, and a bottle of Drakkar Noir. With stacks of keyboards and a deadly falsetto, Sure! briefly seduced untold legions of unsuspecting women with hits like “Off on Your Own Girl,” “Rescue Me,” his cover of “Killing Me Softly,” and the mack daddy of them all, “Nite and Day.”
You remember “Nite and Day,” don’t you? Well, hang onto your panties, ladies, because I’m about to embed the video.
Sadly, the hits dried up rather quickly for Al B. Although 1990’s Private Times … and the Whole 9 included a minor hit, “Missunderstanding,” it also offered definitive proof that even the most persuasive R&B lothario needs a good editor once in a while — this is an album that includes not only the most boringest “Hotel California” cover ever, but an even longer “bass mix” of said cover, along with roughly a dozen other wan, lugubrious slow jams and five minutes of ill-advised Diana Ross dueting. By the time 1992’s Sexy Versus groped its way into finer music-retail outlets, Sure!’s career had gone soft and shriveled.
But rather than going the “Pumps and a Bump” route, he did the dignified thing and simply disappeared, moving behind the scenes to help the next generation of baby-makin’ music kingpins, producing cuts for a list of artists that — according to his Wikipedia page, anyway — includes Jodeci, Tevin Campbell, and Usher. He also moved into the broadcast booth, kicking off a new career as a quiet-storm DJ, one that lasted until earlier this year, when Clear Channel issued Al and 500-odd other employees a decidedly unsexy pink slip.
But not to worry about Al B. Sure! Displaying the sharp business sense that gave him the third-highest-earning 900 number in the early ’90s, he’s moved from one dying industry to another, and is back with his first album of all-new humping music in 17 years, Honey I’m Home.
I know what you’re thinking: “Honey I’m Home? Isn’t that what you say to someone who’s been expecting you — or at least hoping you’d come back? Wouldn’t a more appropriate title be I Used to Live Here, Please Don’t Be Alarmed?”
Well, yes and no. Yes, because I’d imagine you could probably take everyone who’s been pining for an Al B. Sure! comeback and fit them comfortably into the empty seats at whichever ribfest Troop happens to be playing tonight. But no, because Honey I’m Home is as tasteful and self-aware an admission of lapsed relevancy as I’ve heard in recent memory. This may sound like damning with faint praise — and it’s actually not even entirely accurate, given that the record kicks off with a nine-second snippet of “Nite and Day” that reminded me of Dennis Miller’s bit about Walter Mondale doing an American Express commercial that started off with “Hi. Remember me?” — but as we’ll soon discover in this series, it’s very difficult for an artist like Al B. Sure! to make new music without sounding like he’s either trying too hard to sound contemporary or utterly stuck in the past, and although Honey I’m Home errs on the latter side, it doesn’t sound nearly as awkward or forced as it probably should have.
Now, having said all that, is the album hokey as fuck? Absolutely. Sure! still has his falsetto and he isn’t afraid to use it everywhere, nor is he afraid to blow the dust off such dreaded New Jack standbys as the spoken-word interlude, the synth patch that’s so bad you don’t know why they didn’t just use a real instrument, and liberal application of the between-line “Whoo!” He’s also retained his fearless/foolish way with cover choices: nestled into this album’s 13 tracks are a heartfelt-but-unnecessary take on Michael Jackson’s “The Lady in My Life” and an inexplicable fondling of Sting’s “Fragile” (download). But when he isn’t busy making you giggle at inappropriate moments or raiding other artists’ back catalogs, Al still has a way with the come-on; though most of the cuts are more or less serviceable, a few — like “Top of Your Lungs” (download) — may actually make you, dare I say, glad he ended his long hiatus.
Bottom line: if you still cherish your copy of In Effect Mode, or if mainstream R&B has sounded strange and a little scary to you since the late ’80s, Honey I’m Home is perfect for what ails you. And even if neither of those descriptions apply to you, you may just find it to be 50 minutes of harmlessly horny, smartly assembled fun. Looks like the old Jack still has a little swing left in him after all.