Brian Josephs only recently found out Eddie Murphy was younger than him when “Delirious” was filmed. He hasn’t stopped crying.
The name Eddie Murphy doesn’t inspire much confidence these days. This millennium, he’s gone cold in nearly every movie not named Shrek or Dreamgirls. Movies like Norbit and A Thousand Words serve no purpose besides being the films grandparents play to “bond” with grandchildren during family visits while exerting minimal effort. So no, I didn’t think much when I heard Murphy dropped another reggae track.
Was “Oh Jah Jah” the song that illuminated this digital wasteland? Nah, but it was good. The island vibes and traditional composition never sound forced; both Murphy and the backing vocalists are on that laudable, not-quite transformative journey to Zion. But, come to think of it, a good Murphy song isn’t that farfetched of an idea. His talent in mimicry buoyed his ‘80s flourish. Plus, he does have a passable singing voice: his Delirious Michael Jackson riff and that famed Saturday Night Live sketch with Stevie Wonder doesn’t work otherwise.
So why does Murphy’s music catalog suck? The two biggest blemishes are Murphy’s lone hit “Party All The Time” and “WHATZUPWITHU” with Michael Jackson. The little credibility Murphy had as a musician died with the latter. What is Murphy even talking about on this one? Something regarding rivers, clouds, the creation of man, etc. The video is the biggest offense, though. It’s like when you try to get your younger friend to do LSD with you, but you know his mother has been telling him you’re bad news so you describe this idyllic experience to convince him his mom is worried over nothing. “WHATZUPWITU” is bad news, man.
“Party All The Time” has some extra notoriety for landing at No. 8 on Blender’s (R.I.P.) Top 50 Worst Songs of All Time. That’s an exaggeration. The thing that does take the song down a couple of notches is how Murphy sounds neutered compared to that cocky, 22-year-old in the red leather suit. It’s not a fatal flaw, though; “Party All The Time” is a good time. That manufactured beat grows on you. It’s maybe too busy — especially when that hook kicks in — but it’s endearing in how it constructs an ‘80s neon-lit NYC where Murphy is looking for the time of his life.
There’s a riff in Delirious where Murphy theorizes that no matter how ugly you are, if you sing, you’re getting pussy. This single totally flips that. Murphy isn’t the one who’s getting what he wants from his girl this time. No, this one has him pleading: “My girl wants to party all the time.” So despite his vocal pipes, but he’s the everyman here. You might know the feeling. Where you meet this girl who’s cool and showed you a few things about yourself, but she’s just not with it when it comes to a relationship. Its like, let me get to the honest woman in you, boo. Also, there aren’t too many joys greater than picturing Rick James, Eddie Murphy and Jheri Curls in one room.
Murphy’s No. 2 charting single also works in how it synopsizes his on-record charm. Murphy the Songwriter is the foil to Murphy to Comedian: one is the unflappable superstar, the other is a guy’s guy with the feels.
How Could It Be was a decent debut. The stakes are low with a runtime of less than 35 minutes. There’s no defending album-opener “Do I”’s milquetoast tepidness despite Stevie Wonder’s help and how a “Mary Had a Little Lamb” harmonica riff finds itself on the overlong “I Wish (You Could Tell Me When).” Bad, but at least Murphy makes some amends. “C-O-N Confused” is a dreamy, earworm of a pop song and, right after, he’s doing R&B emotional heavy lifting in the album’s title track.
We also get the pleasure of hearing Murphy follow up his “I, Me, Us, We” banger attempt with quixotic and cheesy “My God Is Colorblind.” It awkwardly sticks out in the way “Free” from Prince’s 1999 does. But if the Purple One gets could advocate for freedom and say “I wanna fuck the taste out of your mouth” on the same album Murphy can do same on something more PC. The joyful “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” follows up after to close the album because, “Our love is coming on strong,” you see. At least we close up How Could It Be’s character arc. After opening up with the vulnerable “Do I,” Murphy has gotten his mojo back. All is well.
The fire would go out by the end of the decade. Murphy’s sophomore album So Happy — which features a not happy Murphy on the cover — dropped in 1989, right before Harlem Nights and Another 48 Hrs. ended his reign as Hollywood’s most reliable star. That album was better than both of those movies. The vulnerable Murphy was still here, but So Happy injected some of the sexual edge that was more in focus in Raw. This was also Murphy’s best, too.
Sometimes Eddie Murphy doesn’t sound like Eddie Murphy; I’m about 90 percent sure that was a Prince impersonation on “Pretty Please.” The sounds are far more organic here, though, and Murphy is just fucking feeling it on tracks like “Till The Money’s Gone” and “I Got It.” In a better world, the id-inspired “Love Moans” — with its industrial drums and Murphy popping the question: “Would you do me in the woods/ If I asked you to?” — would have made some noise on that Hot 100. “Tonight” is a slept on boo-loving playlist essential. So Happy is a more assorted listen than Murphy’s debut, but underneath is the fight of the lothario looking for one last night before that glint in his eyes goes dim. It’s a fight that’s worthy of a listen.
The glint was long gone in 1993 when Love’s Alright dropped. One decade you’re a comedy superstar about to bless the world with 48 Hrs. The next you’re doing “WHATZUPWITU” and you’re two years away from Vampire In Brooklyn. Not gonna debate how far Murphy fell off from So Happy here. The title track? Nah. The “Hey Joe” cover? Brick. “I Was a King” with Shabba Ranks? Eh. You can give it a pass, but only because Ranks is on there. Other than that, there’s nothing to see.
We get for more Eddie Murphy singles 20 years later: the aforementioned reggae songs, 2013’s “Promise (You Won’t Break My Heart)” and 2014’s “Temporary.” Fifty-something Eddie Murphy likes the acoustic guitar, sings like a grown man and is far more serious. It’s nothing artistically profound, but it is palatable. So is Murphy a better musician than he ever was? There isn’t a “Party All The Time II,” so no. But at 3-of-4 (I’m biased against “Red Light” because of those headpieces in that video), Murphy is consistent enough to at least have faith in another So Happy instead of Love’s Alright. That’s if he decides to release another album. Murphy told Rolling Stone he has enough material for a country or jazz project and might drop an album if enough people like “Oh Jah Jah.” Let’s maybe not shit on the potential here just because this is Eddie Murphy making music. A fourth Murphy album can change the game. Probably not, but what if?