by: Billy Ocean

Of all the Billy Ocean hits packages that have graced shelves over the years, Jive's L.I.F.E. is the most complete. Spanning 1976 to 1993, this U.K.-originated, double-disc retrospective ranges from the Motown-inspired, '70s soul nuggets that garnered Ocean fame throughout Europe; to his global, crossover smashes from the '80s; and finally, several entries from his sole '90s album, Time to Move On. Disc One is comprised strictly of the 80s hits, including uptempo entries like "When the Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going)," "Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car," "Loverboy," and "Caribbean Queen," as well as the ballads "Suddenly," "There'll Be Sad Songs (to Make You Cry)," and "The Colour of Love." Disc Two hones in on the earlier U.K. hits like "Love Really Hurts Without You," "Red Light," and "Stop Me," but also includes the 90s tracks, as well as Ocean's first bona fide U.S. hit: the early-80s R&B radio staple, "Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)." Oddly, the song from which this collection culls its acronymic title, "Love Is Forever," is sandwiched in between these. One of Ocean's more underrated nuggets, it's a moving ballad from the singer's 1986 Love Zone set that made the U.S. top-20, but never quite achieved the "classic" status of "Suddenly." Though the sequencing of tracks is not always chronologically consistent, the strongpoint of this set is that tunes are continually enjoyable and versatile. Ocean's gregarious voice is a steady, listener-friendly presence, and he and his co-writers have crafted easily accessible and emotionally authentic compositions. The melodies are occasionally derivative -- "Suddenly" bears a noticeable similarity to Lionel Richie's "Hello," while "Get Outta My Dreams" is reminiscent of The Rolling Stones' "Get off My Cloud"." Conversely, tunes like "Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)" and "When the Going Gets Tough" boost unique arrangements that others emulated. Another nice feature of this package is the inclusion of relatively in-depth liner notes, which are insightful, if sometimes erroneous. They claim, for instance, that Ocean's first release was his 1974 effort with Scorched Earth; but in fact, he had recorded in 1971 under his real name, Les Charles. All in all, L.I.F.E. is a nicely assimilated package that provides a well-rounded view of Ocean's international impact as a singer and songwriter. ~ Justin M. Kantor

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