Note for Note

Part One of Boyz II Men | Note for Note

Although Boyz II Men was unable to sustain the success they’d maintained through the ’90s, that’s not to say their work necessarily suffered. The second half of the group’s career contains some surprising gems that you might not be aware of. It also contains a trilogy of covers albums that, while well sung, are kind of unnecessary. Nevertheless, the guys deserve props for soldiering on, not only after their commercial heyday passed them by, but after losing bass-voiced Mike McCary. Here’s a look at the last decade and a half (give or take) of Boyz II Men’s career.

Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya (2000)

Evolution may have disappointed (slightly) in the sales department, and the Boyz (or their label) correctly realized no one wanted to hear them working with Puffy Combs, so for Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya, the fellas took the production reins. The result is their most mature and accomplished (and least dated sounding) album. NMSW is ballad-heavy, but when you can harmonize like BIIM, it isn’t like that’s a bad thing, right? Besides, some of the uptempo tunes (especially the inane “Bounce, Move, Shake, Swing”) fall a bit flat. Thankfully, the sumptuous slow jams make up for it. “Dreams” and “Pass You By” are practically cinematic in scope, with sweeping orchestration and spine-tingling vocals. “I Do” allows the group’s doo-wop influence to take center stage, while “Do You Remember” is a mellow, back porch acoustic jam. For my money, the showstopper is “Lovely,” a song that finds the men at their most seductive. Any “get in the draws” mixtape has to include this song.

Grade: A- (Big Money)

Legacy: The Greatest Hits Collection (2001)

I don’t count the original version of this hits collection. Why? Because a deluxe version was released and it destroys the original version five ways from Sunday. The deluxe edition adds four extra tracks to the first disc, which itself is a nice snapshot of their big hits from their first four albums. Also included are their two biggest collaborations, “One Sweet Day”, which was originally on Mariah Carey’s Daydream and “Hey Lover”, from LL Cool J’s Mr. Smith.

If there’s a problem with the first disc, it’s the inclusion of the sappy “A Song For Mama” rather than another song from Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya, such as “Thank You In Advance”. Their cover of “In The Still Of The Night” from the The Jacksons: An American Dream soundtrack is a nice touch, as is the Wanya assisted remix of Brandy’s “Brokenhearted” which was also available on their remix album that Big Money wrote about.

An extra second disc features remixes to their hits, including two that weren’t part of disc one – “Sympin’” and “Vibin’” which were previously available on maxi singles (remember those?). Also included are songs that were on soundtracks such as Shawn Stockman’s solo jaunt “Visions Of A Sunset” from Mr. Holland’s Opus and “I Will Get There” from the soundtrack to The Prince Of Egypt. What? Nate Morris’ Wishes from Kazaam is missing?

This is how greatest hits collections are supposed to be done.

Grade: A (GG)

Full Circle (2002)

Like Big Money mentioned, Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya took a step in the mature direction and it was well received by critics. Full Circle showed them trying to continue on that path, but it wasn’t as well received.

First single “The Color Of Love” featured the Boyz in great voice, but at this point, the Boyz singing formulaic ballads wasn’t the new hotness. But when they went beyond formulaic radio ballads, like with “Oh Well”, they were still able to create with the best of them. “Oh Well” is one of my five favorite Boyz II Men ballads, and that’s high praise for a group like BIIM.

What’s most odd to me about this album is how similar most of the ballads sound. Throw on the last half of the album and even though the songs have different names, none of them are noticeable from the other. And you probably won’t remember any of them after you’re done listening.

Two songs that are memorable and listenable are the Faith Evans assisted “Relax Your Mind”, which will get you noddin’ your head a bit, and the very chilled out “On The Road Again”. You want to laugh? Listen to the guys puff out their chests a little bit on “Ain’t A Thang Wrong”.

Grade: C (GG)

Throwback Vol. 1 (2004)

Remember when the idea of Boyz II Men doing a covers album seemed like a novel concept?

Throwback (there hasn’t been an *official* volume 2 despite the other covers albums that emerged in its wake) is the only one of the group’s remake trilogy that’s worth owning. There’s a sense that this album was done out of love, as opposed to laziness or sticking to formula. It also proves that Mike McCary was the group’s weak link, as you barely realize his absence. Of course, there is also a handful of guest artists that may distract you from the fact that a member is MIA. MC Lyte appears on a sunny version of Bobby Caldwell’s jazz/soul chestnut “What You Won’t Do for Love,” while City High’s Claudette Ortiz (‘memba her?) helps the fellas deliver one of the better versions of MJ’s “Human Nature.” Of course, the uptempo tracks (“Cutie Pie,” “Let it Whip”) are largely forgettable, but Throwback is still worth a listen, if you can get your hands on it. I haven’t seen too many copies floating around recently.

Grade: B (Big Money)

The Remedy (2006)

Why haven’t you ever heard about this album? It was released in Japan originally. The guys didn’t make it available in the US until several months later and you could only buy it through their website. How the mighty had fallen.

The album is probably fairly rare (it is…want a copy? Prepare to pay a LOT) but I don’t think people will be chomping at the bit to find it. The album opens well with the fun and uptempo “Muzak”. A lot of the material finds the guys talking sex rather than love, which was their previous lane. “Booed Up” isn’t only a terrible song name, it’s one of their worst attempts ever at trying fit what was hot at the time. “Ego” might be the worst produced song you’ll ever hear with a drum beat that sounds like bubbles popping. The album just exists otherwise.

The slow jams aren’t even really B-side worthy. It was a half-hearted attempt to create new music from a group at cross roads. I’d love to grade the fellas on a curve, but this one doesn’t pass.

Grade: D+ (GG)

Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA (2007)

Boyz II Men’s second of three straight cover albums, Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville, USA, covers the music of their “ancestors”. The ex-Motown label artists cover hits by The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and more.

Rather than “remixing” the covers they made them similar to how they were originally produced.

The album is fun, a little slow at times (including the a cappella version of “End of the Road” – unnecessary), but brings back memories to those that listened to Motown’s glory days. The covers of The Miracles “The Tracks of My Tears”, The Commodores “Easy” and the Four Tops  medley of “It’s the Same Old Song/Reach Out I’ll Be There” headline an album that was actually nominated for a Grammy for best R&B album.

Grade: B (KJ)

Love (2009)

You’ve covered soul classics from the Seventies and Eighties, and you’ve tackled the Motown catalog. Boyz II Men, what are you going to do next? Cover a bunch of lite-fm staples from the likes of Lonestar and the Goo Goo Dolls? Hmmm. You know what? I think I’m gonna sit this one out.

Love was obviously made to capitalize on the somewhat unexpected success of the Motown covers album, and fortunately lightning did not strike a second time (Lord only knows what they would’ve chosen to cover next.) I can’t say that the song choices are poor (I like most of these songs in their original incarnations) and the Boyz sing their asses off even when they’re phoning it in. The production is dreary, however, and…man, I do NOT want to hear Boyz II Men singing “Iris.” I’m sorry. Plain awful, and lazy, and the worst thing that Boyz II Men have ever slapped their name onto.

Grade: D (Big Money)

Twenty (2011)

After three straight “throwback” albums and after The Remedy I came into Twenty a little hesitant. The Boyz were releasing their first album of original music in almost a decade – and it was a double disc.

And at first listen you’re left waiting, actually hoping for that classic Boyz II Men power ballad, and only “One More Dance”, fittingly penned by ballad maker Babyface, comes close to accomplishing that. Though beautiful it leaves us wanting more … more emotion, more Wanya!

But after a few listens you realize this album is classic Boyz II Men, which is a good thing.

“More Than You’ll Ever Know”, which features Charlie Wilson, plays like a sequel to early Boyz II Men tracks. I guess you can say it’s the Men factor, an anniversary-type song for us Boyz II Men fans who have since moved on from the “On Bended Knee” ballads and into long lasting relationships. Just like we could 20 years ago we can scribble down the lyrics of their songs, present them to our now-spouse and come out looking like a champ. Guilty!

“One Up for Love” is meant to spark a movement towards peace. The Boyz ask us to put one up for love, and though I love the message, and use the lyric “We can change the world”, I think, thanks to the heavy drums and strings, it never really caught on with us veteran fans because it was different.

“Put Some Music On” is vintage Boyz II Men lovemaking music. Put it right alongside “Uhh Ahh”, “I’ll Make Love to You” and “50 Candles” on the mix tape and you’re in for a memorable night.

“Benefit of a Fool” takes us back in time. A little reminiscent of the music Motown fans grew up on, the song is fun and would fit perfectly on their throwback album Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA. Check out “Refuse to Be the Reason”, “Believe” and “Not Like You” while you’re at it too!

You never like when groups redo their own music, but I actually enjoyed the spin they put on the eight songs on Disc 2. It’s just the three of them and you can tell their voices, though still beautiful, have matured, which makes the updated versions refreshing. I actually prefer the “A Song for Mama” version over the original.

Grade: B (KJ)

Stay tuned for a Spotify playlist (curated by the three of us) containing the best of Boyz II Men.

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