Published Apr 17, 2019They declared back in 1976, that "we've got a message in our music," and indeed, a lot of the best and most beloved songs in the O'Jays' oeuvre — from "Backstabbers" to "For the Love of Money" to their stinging indictment of the slavery holocaust "Ship Ahoy" — focused on topical and political issues.
Fast-forward nearly half-a-century and we're in the same socio-political climate that shaped those classics, recorded at Philadelphia's Sigma Sound Studios. It makes sense then, that the final album from the legendary soul trio (comprised of co-founding members Eddie Levert, Sr, Walter Williams and Eric Nolan) is their most politically charged, and their finest since their early to mid-1970s Philadelphia International heyday.
When Levert and Williams cry out "Reinvent slavery, erase the war on poverty" on the Betty Wright and Angelo Morris-penned , "Above the Law," it's the sound of elder statesmen seeing history sadly repeating itself, yet its intense fist-pumping bump (arguably the funkiest these cats have gotten since "Give the People What They Want") avoids the strident.
The production of Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, soul icon Betty Wright (the trio behind Joss Stone's Soul Sessions) and Sam Hollander nods to the upscale string arrangements and bounce of early Philly disco on "Start Stoppin'" and "I Got You" (both sunny dance-floor assurances for dark times) and is sleek without sacrificing grit, most notably on the down-home groove of "Do You Really Know How I Feel."
The Last Word closes with an update of the group's first R&B Top 10 hit, "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today)" a touching goodbye that takes the now older and wiser group full circle to their roots. With The Last Word, The O'Jays end their legendary career on a peak. (S-Curve)