It speaks volumes that, at this historical moment, viable cred can come the title “Original Boy Band”. Throughout The Best of Color Me Badd, you can almost hear the cashing-in ca-chings the people at Giant, who, with careful marketing, maybe could wheedle CMB into a breathing, or at least nostalgic, popularity. But perhaps even more astonishing is that, lame moniker aside, what’s here is actually a pretty entertaining and telling romp through early ‘90s R&B.
But first, I have to ask: how many of you actually suspected that CMB had enough material to comprise even half of a best of album? Personally, I thought immediately of George Michael, who’s Best of consisted of almost all the material he’d ever produced. The same goes here; and while you’ll probably have a harder time conjuring names of CMB singles, some of them carry the same cache. Of course, there’s the absolutely necessary “I Wanna Sex You Up”, but beyond that twinkles other recognizable gems. Try “I Adore Mi Amor” on for size (a staple of the first substantial modern pop embrace of Latin influences), or “All for Love”, and you’ll find yourself right back at that horrible junior high after school dance. (And if you were anything like me, you’ll probably start tearing up.)
Lonesome memories and stale dance moves aside, the album resurrects and sustains many other fly little numbers; even if you don’t remember them, you can still get behind them if you’re willing. Lovelorn but seductively crooned “Thinkin’ Back” doles out a blues that’ll surely tie a knot in whatever undies you’re wearing by the song’s close (that is, if you’ve kept them on). The cover of “Wildflower” is rendered appropriately sincere with melodramatic guitar accents and right on falsettos. And the sensual “Sexual Capacity” which just groans its way into your memory is a perfect foil to the lovesick “The Last to Know”, an impotent, heartbroken morsel of power-pop. Damn.
Though much of their saccharine harmonies and sexy-but-not-too lyrics seem right out of the strategizing of today’s boy band army, CMB obviously died out before most of this stuff was able to be exposed. But if you think about it, these guys are much more New Edition than ‘NSync. They came out before R&B crossovers had any market viability, while screaming teenage white girls were still getting their piece of Jordan, Joey, Donny, Danny, and John. And in a culture that begs to cater to the mainstream (and flubs, flounders, and really exploits everything else), groups like this could only carry subsist for so long.
So if you can’t enjoy this album out of either true fandom or ironic novelty, at least listen to it for a bit of history. Original boy band or no, groups like CMB helped male singing troupes pave the road between R&B and mainstream pop. Or, said another way, these guys you’ve probably all but forgotten were the guinea pigs for the music business’s grand marketing experiments—the fruits of which have given us Backstreet and NSYNC. And look where that’s gotten us.