Essential Forever

Essential Forever

Every record store, vintage shop, and estate sale worth its salt has that one crate of obscure records from the 1960s. Some people dig in those crates for that rare, legendary print; but others, like Chicago songwriter Alex Heaney, seek out two key words: “greatest hits.” And while Roy Orbison, Everly Brothers, or Buddy Holly would fit the bill, Heaney is just as happy to pull out an essentials LP by an artist he hasn’t heard of. The next logical step in that endless chase for greatest hits came in the form of Heaney’s new project, Essential Forever. The band’s new album, A Lot Still To Say, spins like a pop opera anthology from an undiscovered AM era crooner dug out of the dustiest crate in the shop.

Through Essential Forever, Heaney explores the sepia-tinted radio pop he’d grown obsessed with, dousing romantic hooks in Phil Spector’s wall of sound. More than idolizing a bygone era or honoring particular production, A Lot Still To Say cleverly tinkers with the trademark emotionality. “I wanted to write an album from the perspective of this forgotten crooner, the most prolific artist that no one has ever heard of,” Heaney says. “But at the same time I wanted to skew the hypermasculinity and the hubris of love songs from that era.”

The album’s opening track and lead single, “Hollywood Royalty”, immediately lays out the album’s DNA. The skyscraping chords, thunderous piano, layered percussion, and tight falsetto harmonies sound pulled from a lost Roy Orbison take. Though written as arch love songs, A Lot Still To Say largely avoids gendered subjects and weaves insecurities and admissions of guilt rather than blame. He’s not the conqueror in “Then I Surrender Willingly”, needs someone to lean on in “Shelter”, while “All We’ve Gotta Do” admits that he wouldn’t be surprised if his love walked away. “I wanted these songs to welcome the perspective of anybody listening who wasn't just a straight male,” Heaney explains. “It feels cathartic to write in the language of love songs, but to expose inherent vulnerabilities and ground it in real thoughtfulness.” 

Thanks to a pack of talented collaborators rounding out the composition and producer Kevin Basko, each track on A Lot Still To Say stands on its own as a pop gem, but it’s Heaney’s modernist take and sterling voice that makes Essential Forever’s latest feel like those beloved greatest hits records: “I wanted to write songs that can help people fall in love a hundred times over.”