After 19 years, Boyz II Men still haven’t quite put their finger on it. That is, they haven’t nailed exactly what propelled them from CooleyHighHarmony hitmakers to world megastars. They know that “End of the Road” and producer Babyface had something to do with it, but they seem unsure as to why they hit sooo big. It appears they’ve gone with pretty melodies and melisma but in truth what the public really loves is the 4 strong attack of Nathan Morris’s whispered harmonies, a deep bass vocal doo wop foundation and the 1-2 combination of Shawn Stockman getting gritty on the verse, before “The Mike Tyson of Soul” Mr. Wanya Morris delivers the knock out uppercut, seemingly summoning every last bit of effort from his gut to end the contest and take the song home. It’s Wanya’s adlibs on “End of the Road” (“oh my god, oh myyy god!”) over those harmonies that triggered genuine goosebumps in a generation that thought soul was only about dance music or love-making slow jams, with the Boyz creating the kind of Harlem Apollo soul magic that only a select few could conjure in their prime (groups like The Spinners, The Blue Notes, Solo & The Temps). On subsequent albums there have been flashes of that Boyz II Men brilliance, but not enough.
11th studio album “Love”, produced by Randy Jackson, is no different. Yet another covers project (their 3rd in 4 albums), instead of old soul favourites “Love” mainly consists of rather dull MOR/Pop hits (main offenders being Lonestar’s “Amazed”, Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now”, Journey’s “Open Arms” & the Rick Astley Nat King Cole classic “When I Fall In Love” featuring Michael Búble). Even the more interesting choices fail to improve or provide sufficient variance on the original recordings. Beatles fans will always prefer ‘In My Life’ by John Lennon, Manhattans devotees will have no reason to check out “Shining Star” and Take That fans won’t start chucking knickers at the Boyz on the basis of their faithful rendition of “Back For Good” (because it should have worked in a more adventurous arrangement - it’s the most disappointing cover of the lot).
Cyndi Laupers “Time After Time” is given the Boyz II Men acapella treatment, but how much more girth did they have when singer Michael ‘The Bass’ McCary used to be in the group? They’ve had more than enough time to get a new bass singer (the fella from Az Yet was pretty good), if the Temps/O’Jays could replace band members, why not Boyz II Men? Because girth is what this album is really missing, girth and vocal prowess is what sets apart a soul singing vocal harmony group from a bland Simon Cowell approved boy band.
They remember that on only a handful of cuts. Mainly the tracks which feature underrated soul super hero, Flyte Tyme producer & ex-Sounds of Blackness member “Big Jim” Wright on Hammond B3 Organ. One of those is the melodic, fully orchestrated Spinners song “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” that confirms that Boyz II Men are at their best in a Karaoke bar selecting Philly Soul favourites (already having previous with the excellent “Close The Door” & “You Make Me Feel Brand New” from “Throwback Vol.1”).
But overall, after 12 rounds of covers it’s not sounding great, that is until Boyz II Men pull the album back from the brink, landing a devastating punch with track 13, the Dorothy Moore standard “Misty Blue”. The entire lead vocal is handled by Wanya Morris, who setting the tone with a soul brother moan: “hmmmm” sings the song full of character with control, soul and sincerity. The backing vocal arrangement is equally as masterful. There’s a sublime moment 2 minutes in when all the elements combine, just as Wanya sings;
“When I say, when I say that "I'm glad we're through.” Deep in my heart I know I’ve lied”
His voice cracks on the last word, it’s a painful admission. He repeats “I’ve lied” and let’s the admission resonate as he exhales “Oooh”. The strings are soft and Big Jim’s notes bittersweet. The fellas Shawn & Nate carry the weight with a gorgeous line of harmony support “Ooooh” picking Wanya up, ready for the gutbucket call and response ending. At only 3 and half minutes the song fades too soon. Another flash of brilliance of which they’re still capable.
Don’t give up on ‘em yet.