For a time in the ‘80s, El DeBarge seemed to be the second coming of Michael Jackson. He came from a Motown family band whose hits (“Love Me in a Special Way,” “Who’s Holding Donna Now”, and “Rhythm of the Night”) were as sweet and infectious as anything the Jacksons had created. El left the band for a solo career with the help of Berry Gordy Jr., and his first record leapt up the charts thanks to the success of the catchy first single “Who’s Johnny?”, which was featured in the movie Short Circuit.
El DeBarge was away longer than he was around. The first DeBarge album and the last El DeBarge album were separated by 13 years, and then 16 years passed between Heart, Mind & Soul and Second Chance. Apart from a handful of guest appearances during the latter half of the ‘90s and early 2000s, El was (to put it mildly) out of commission. So it’s extraordinary that this, his fifth solo album, exists.
The past decade has not been easy for El (né Eldra) DeBarge, the former Motown family-band star whose recurring drug troubles finally led him to prison in 2008. Now a renewed-looking 49, the singer addresses that turmoil on the frankly confessional Second Chance, his first album since 1994 — but because his ethereal vocals still shimmer so effortlessly, plush adult-soul jams like ”How Can You Love Me” and ”When I See You” (the latter co-written by Babyface) end up sounding surprisingly serene. It?s the year?s most elegant tell-all.