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Picks and Pans Review: In the Storm

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El DeBarge

DeBarge’s first album in three years is something of a milestone. As he turns 30 and finally sheds his cutie-pie teen idol image, the singer joins a new label in a new funkier style.

Rapper Kool Moe Dee hooks up with him for “Fast Lane,” a taut little limb-jerker. Equally pulse-quickening is “My Heart Belongs to You” by Keith Crouch. One listen and it’s obvious someone in the studio has been wearing out his copy of Prince’s “Kiss.” Maybe it’s Maurice White, who coproduced with DeBarge. White’s touch is evident throughout, particularly in the way he wedges musical interludes between songs, as he did on all those great Earth Wind & Fire albums.

Of course, with-his achingly pretty tenor, El—the Wayne Newton of Soul—would be foolish not to lather up a few romantic ballads. “Love Me Tonight” and “Special” fit the bill beautifully (even if they are rather syrupy). Another glider is the singer’s smooth cover of Marvin Gaye’s “After the Dance,” a track that previously appeared on the hit jazz fusion album by Fourplay. With the socially conscious title track, DeBarge also pays implicit homage to Gaye’s masterpiece “What’s Going On.”

In all, El is sounding more, um, mature. Until now, he wouldn’t have dreamed of doing risqué songs like “Tip o’ My Tongue” or “Leggs.” No more puppy love. DeBarge is a big nasty hound now, barking up the right tree. (Warner Bros.)