Billy Ocean was omnipresent in the 1980s, a staple at engagement parties, teenage discos and the backdrop for many a dad dance. Born in Trinidad, he moved to Romford when he was 10, just as the music scene in London would be dramatically changed with the dawn of The Beatles and The Kinks. He’d played in various bands in the ’70s while working in the Ford factory, but it wasn’t until he had bought a piano from a woman who was redecorating for 23 quid that he came up with the melody for his breakthrough hit Love Really Hurts Without You.
His future Grammy Award winning synth-pop smash Caribbean Queen was even recorded as African Queen and European Queen to corner other markets. This led to a tumult of hits like When The Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going) and Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car. But at the height of his fame, Ocean seemed to disappear, choosing to spend time with his family over his music career.
He resurfaced in the ’90s, but the musical landscape had changed dramatically with grunge battling with R&B for chart dominance, rendering Ocean’s post-disco bereft. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that he was able to capitalise on the swarming ’80s nostalgia, playing Rewind festivals, much to the delight of his fans. He is now 70 and back with a new album One World, recorded in 2019 in Manchester and New York, on which he again worked with Barry Eastmond from his ’80s heyday.
What the world needs now is hope, and Ocean does not disappoint. The album opens with the optimistic We Gotta Find Love, a string-laden, synth-pop gem with some lovely gospel tinges and an affecting soulful and bittersweet vocal. The title track is blunt and pacing. A funky call to arms with some curious electronic blips, some that sound like a Speak and Spell. But Ocean’s message is clear and sincere. All Over The World is a reggae-lite anthem calling for global unity with a celestial gospel section towards the end of the track that implores and empowers.
The album certainly has a nostalgic lens. There are echoes of Marvin Gaye‘s Sexual Healing on Feel The Love, an ethereal jam underpinned by a thumping bassline. When I Saw You is probably the closest to Ocean’s ’80s work, part new jack swing, part funktastic pop, with Ocean’s slightly more rugged vocals complemented beautifully by soaring female backing sections. Similarly, Betcha Don’t Know is vintage Ocean with some soft-rock guitars leading into a smooth euphonic chorus that harks back to his classic hits. Mystery is a revelation, a call to the dancefloor with some thumping post-disco calypso synth that would outshine much of the churn currently dominating in the hit parade. Daylight is a calypso-pop slap that is very reminiscent of Lionel Richie‘s All Night Long. The album closes with the tender and cinematic ballad Nothing Will Stand In Our Way, with a blueprint is timeless and smooth. It represents Ocean at his solemn best.
While the underlying message of One World may be nothing new, the soul and sincerity in Ocean’s voice and lyrics serve as an antidote to cynicism. His message may be simple, but never has it resonated more.