Release Year: 1982
Hall and Oates are a musical act I’ve grown to love over the years. I’ve always liked their hit singles, but I’ve grown to respect their contributions to music. And lately, I’ve been in a Hall and Oates mood. In the past two weeks, I watched all their videos online, saw countless interviews, and watched their Behind the Music special. I’ve covered Big Bam Boom, probably their biggest album, already so I wanted to look at another one of their successful records. This time, let’s look at the duo’s eleventh album H2O.
The album opens with one of their best singles “Maneater.” That slick opening beat, hot sax riff, and lyrics about a woman whose dangerous yet tempting, makes this one of their coolest songs. It’s dangerous yet sensual as the music slowly builds up and Hall begins singing about this “maneater.” It’s pop meshed with soul for that “Motown groove” making it so irresistible. Though the song sounds like it’s about a vicious woman, the duo said it was inspired by the greed and lust of New York in the 80’s. Years later, it’s still one of their best songs and a great example of what makes the duo so talented.
The next track “Crime Pays” is kind of weird, but fun to listen to. It’s pretty much their disco song. It has a funky groove, glistening keys, and an upbeat dance vibe that’s meant to get you moving. The music is the most notable thing about the song. It’s not as memorable or as interesting as the other tracks, but it still puts you in a good mood. It’s a quirky moment from the duo before they go back to laying out the catchy, ear worm jams. While “Guessing Games” and “Delayed Reaction” aren’t bad, they’re kind of typical for the band. Both are pretty straightforward pop songs, with the latter having a catchier, if not, simpler hook. The former is kind of dull. These songs don’t cause much of a reaction; maybe just a subtle nod of the head at times.
Daryl Hall constantly talks about growing up in Philadelphia and being influenced by soul and R&B music. These influences come out best on this album, especially on tracks like “Art of Heartbreak.” Though the song is about being a heartbreaker, the song sounds sleek and sexy with the opening dirty blues riff and Hall’s crooning vocals. For an extra air of cool, the hot sax makes a return for a sensuous groove. It’s an underrated Hall and Oates gem that lets them get in touch with the soul sound that launched their career. The R&B sound returns on the lukewarm “Open All Night.” It’s not a terrible song, but compared to the other tracks it doesn’t stand out. It’s a slow song about finding out a lover’s infidelity. It’s not bad, just a bit generic.
The album also includes hits “One on One” and “Family Man.” The former takes a bit to grow on you, but once it does, it never lets go. The soothing opening keys and Hall’s falsetto makes it sound like a lounge song from the 70s. And if you’re not used to Hall hitting those high notes, it comes off a little weird, but soon enough you’ll be singing “Whoooa, one on one/I wanna play that game tonight/One on one I know” with him. It’s a slow jam about getting some face time with your lover. To make sure you get in the mood, the sax comes in during the bridge adding a suave vibe to the song. It’s a Hall and Oates classic that never seems to get much attention.
“Family Man” is actually a Mike Oldfield cover about a man being proposition by a prostitute. He resists by screaming “Leave me alone/I’m a family man!” The song has a rock vibe with beefy guitars with some weird muted music making it sound like they’re in the middle of a jungle for a moment of the song. What makes the Hall and Oates version stand out is how Hall’s vocals get more intense near the end, showing how this “family man” is about to lose it. And it has a hook that lodges itself in your head. I woke up one day with the hook repeating in my head. No joke.
Though the album is mostly solid, there are some real stinkers. And unfortunately, they’re both written by John Oates. “Italian Girls” is a throwaway track filled with Italian stereotypes while Oates sings “Where are the Italian girls?” It’s so upbeat and generic it almost plays like a comedy song from the 80s. Instead, it’s stuck on the tail end of the album bringing down the second half. The following track “At Tension” doesn’t sound cheesy, but it’s so unfitting. Oates’ back on vocals singing about war and the military. It’s out of place because most of the songs are about relationships. It’s also drawn out, slow, and boring making it a song you can’t wait to be over. Luckily, the end of the album is saved by the catchy slow jam, “Go Solo,” which finds Hall rightfully back on vocal duty.
H2O is just one of the numerous hit albums for this duo. Though it’s not as upbeat and fun as Big Bam Boom, it’s a solid record. Most of the songs are memorable and have that classic Hall and Oates touch that makes their music so irresistible. What I appreciate about the record is how it shows off more of their soul and R&B influences, which isn’t always easy to hear on tracks like “Out of Touch.” And if you needed proof that Daryl Hall is a stellar vocalist look no further than this album. He has an impressive range and his soulful crooning is like no other. There’s some filler along with flat out bad songs, but the album is enjoyable. If you have a Hall and Oates that needs scratching, this album will be your satisfaction.