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Loose Ends’ Look How Long: An Overlooked New Jack Swing Classic

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America first laid eyes on Loose Ends through their 1985 single “Hanging on A String (Contemplating),” a jazzy R&B tune featuring trio Carl McIntosh, Jane Eugene, and Steve Nichol. While the song became a modest success, peaking at number 43 on Billboard’s Hot 100, Loose Ends inexplicably never equaled their first hit, eventually fading from the American music scene. However, the British group continued recording songs that registered with dance audiences as well as European music fans. Although I really liked “Hanging on A String,” I admittedly lost track of them until I heard a recent podcast which devoted an episode to their music. Subsequently I looked up all their albums, and I discovered a disc from 1990: Look How Long. While it features a different Loose Ends lineup—Linda Carriere, Sunay Suleyman, and McIntosh—it brings their ’80s sound into the ’90s while keeping their jazz-inflected music intact.

After their 1988 album The Real Chuckeeboo, Eugene and Nichol departed Loose EndsLoose Ends. When Carriere and Suleyman joined the group, they decided to forge ahead into the New Jack Swing genre, made popular through artists such as Bobby Brown, Guy, and Tony! Toni! Toné! Featuring a harder, hip hop beat, samples, and thumping bass, the music sounded edgier. Loose Ends embraced this movement on Look How Long, and managed to amass an impressive collection of memorable songs.

That New Jack beat immediately kicks in on the title track, with the trio closely harmonizing on the chorus: “I used to know ya, to know ya, to know ya.” Fans of Loose Ends’ “Hanging on A String” days will appreciate “Don’t You Ever (Try to Change Me)” with its jazzy chord changes and scatting vocals. Yet the subtle samples and throbbing beat firmly ground the track in 1990 grooves. The rhythm continues with “Time Is Ticking,” in which Carriere’s lead vocals deftly handle some unusual chord changes, and are never overwhelmed by the bass and drums. While the lyrics may not be groundbreaking, they are intended to emphasize the rhythm rather than tell a story. “Time is ticking away/ Your chance will come along someday,” Carriere sings, the tick-tocking of a clock propelling the tempo.

Another irresistible track is the first (and best known) single off the album, “Don’t be A Fool.” Again, the beat may prominently figure in the song, but Carriere’s singing remains front and center. “Don’t be a fool/ Don’t throw your life away,” she cautions. While “Don’t be A Fool” may have enticed many to the dance floor, it remains an intelligent, well-crafted piece of R&B.

While uptempo songs may dominate Look How Long, two ballads demonstrate Loose Ends’ range. “Love Controversy Part 1” smoothly addresses how to keep love alive, while the too short “Symptoms of Love” showcases the trio’s harmonies, a sensual beat and minimal arrangement cushioning their vocals. “Hold Tight” holds a midtempo groove, again allowing all three members to croon over the refrain.

Jazz and dance intersect on cuts like “Try My Love,” which features some distinctive piano riffs and McIntosh’s silky singing gliding over a looped guitar riff, the thumping beat recalling a Tony! Toni! Toné record. “I Don’t Need to Love,” a should-have-been-hit, features McIntosh scatting over a swift, bass-driven tempo. Piano accents, beautiful vocal interplay, and jazz-influenced chord changes make the track even more distinctive. Like the rest of Look How Long, the song exemplifies Loose Ends’ sophisticated, polished brand of 1980s and 1990s soul.

Unfortunately, Look How Long became Loose Ends’ finale; McIntosh went on to produce artists such as Caron Wheeler (Soul II Soul). In 1998, Loose Ends reunited to record a single, “Take Your Time,” with producer, DJ, and rapper Pete Rock. McIntosh remains active as a producer and artist.

While “Hanging on A String” may ultimately become Loose Ends’ legacy, Look How Long is a lost New Jack Swing gem. If Loose Ends had to dissolve their partnership, at least they went out on a memorable, well-crafted, smartly arranged note.

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About Kit O'Toole