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SUMMER ALBUM ROUNDUP : MUSICAL MASTER MECHANIC

“LOVE ZONE.” Billy Ocean. Arista. When someone got the bright idea to change Ocean’s 1984 smash hit “Caribbean Queen” to “European Queen” for European release--or was it vice versa?--it was no problem.

Likewise, you could change whole lines--whole verses!--in every one of the nine songs on the Trinidadian singer’s new album and it wouldn’t matter a bit. Ocean and writing partners Barry J. Eastmon and Wayne Brathwaite (who also produced the LP) don’t offer much more in their lyrics than cliche-mongering of the “I believe in love” variety--except for the liveliest and best cut, “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going.”

But, hey, you want a sweet guy with a fine voice singing melodic pop songs with soul dressing in an acceptable production? You got it in “Love Zone.”

Like a mechanic who’s able to fiddle around under the hood of a beat-up old car and make it go faster than it’s ever gone before, Ocean takes ordinary tunes like “There’ll Be Sad Songs” and “Without You” and revs ‘em up with his soulful tones and varied phrasing. The instrumentation is consistently full-bodied, and a few of his vehicles have enough sure-fire hooks to make them big commercial possibilities--with the sultry, easily rocking title number a particular standout.

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The album trails off oddly on the last four songs, where lax arrangements undermine the vocalist. But those romantic semantics remain the biggest problem: No matter how well Ocean sings that he “couldn’t face another day without you,” etc., the sentiments seem right out of the pop pasta-maker rather than straight from the heart.


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