Music

Boyz II Men: Throwback

Mark Harris

Reel in Boyz II Men's tribute album, enjoy a listen or two, then throw back.


Boyz II Men

Throwback

Label: Koch
US Release Date: 2004-08-24
UK Release Date: 2004-08-30
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

It's easy to tell the game plan for a Boyz II Men album. Just look at the title:

  • Cooleyhighharmony: An introduction to their modern sound, rooted in nostalgic harmonies.
  • II: Their second album. Duh.
  • Evolution: A more hip sound and image.
  • Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya: A more personal effort, with increased control over writing and producing.
  • Full Circle: A return to, well, a commercially successful album sound. (They failed.)

So where do you go after coming "full circle?" You go back in time.

Throwback is a tribute to the vintage R&B sound of the '70s and '80s that inspired the group's style. It's also a direct refutation of the sterility in today's hip-hop-inclined R&B music.

As the liner notes state, "The industry's in a major state of emergency, mostly becuz [sic] of the lack of creativity. It's up to us to make the game worth being a part of again, so stop trying to do what they do and do you!"

Ironically, the group's display of "creativity" takes the form of an album full of covers. Even more ironically, the covers aren't very creative.

Throwback, the first in what the group claims will be a series of cover albums (Throwback II: The Revenge!), smacks a bit of desperation. Granted, recent tribute albums by the likes of Tony Bennett, Rod Stewart, Michael Bolton, and Michael McDonald have sold well, but the primary audience for those albums is 40-something housewives. Although Boyz II Men aren't the chart-topping powerhouse they once were, they're not a middle-aged Las Vegas lounge-act just yet.

That said, if any current group can pull off an album dedicated to less-than-current R&B, it's Boyz II Men. They were never an uber-hip group, gleefully sporting on their debut what they deemed the "Alex Vanderpool" style: bowties, nerdish argyle socks, hush puppies, and checkered cardigans.

Though their taste in clothes is questionable, their taste in music is not. Song selection is a challenge inherent in any covers album, and Throwback features a wealth of bona fide staples of '70s and '80s R&B. But therein lies the problem. Tunes like Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", the Isley Brothers' "For the Love of You", and Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do for Love" are such staples of urban radio's nightly "quiet storm" showcase that their impact of any remake is minimal unless drastic changes are made. Somewhat less expected -- though still familiar to fans of the era -- are One Way's "Cutie Pie", Dazz Band's "Let It Whip", and DeBarge's "Time Will Reveal".

The other major test of a covers album is its ability to breathe in new life into the material. (Anyone remember Dolly Parton's version of "I Will Always Love You"?) On that level, Boyz II Men again are spotty. Several of their renditions -- particularly Teddy Pendergrass's "Close the Door", "Cutie Pie", "For the Love of You", and the Sylistics' "You Make Me Feel Brand New" -- are far too faithful to the originals to have much purpose. Since the group produced all of the songs themselves, they have no one else to blame. It's almost as if they felt so intimidated by the classic songs that they didn't want to besmirch their memory.

That fear wouldn't be completely unfounded, of course. So many of these tunes are considered nearly untouchable by the R&B fan base that "the Boyz" would have a tough time living up to their standard under the best of circumstances.

Still, they manage to hold their own on several tracks. Most notably, the strumming acoustic guitar added to both Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" and Hall & Oates's "Sara Smile" lends a fresh, folksy "AM Gold" feel. A hint of acoustic guitar likewise spruces up Klymaxx's "I Miss You", already enlivened with a switch to male vocals.

Their rendition of Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do for Love", the album's first single, also takes chances by incorporating a light hip-hop edge, accentuated by an old-school rap from fellow-throwback MC Lyte.

The only other risky remake is "Time Will Reveal", on which Boyz II Men return to their a cappella roots. Without the sultry music and El DeBarge's sweet-cum-wussy falsetto, however, the force behind the song is nil.

While the group can't pull off the DeBarge track, their vocal strength buoys the otherwise lackluster cuts (although "Cutie Pie" isn't exactly a showcase for one's singing chops). To their credit, the absence of ailing bass vocalist Michael McCary isn't noticeable, and their voices blend as richly as ever.

Throwback's retro style is a welcome change of pace that may well introduce these classics to Boyz II Men's younger fans, but it's far too safe and predictable to be worth more than a couple of listens. Let's hope the group brings this throwback sound to their next original album.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image