Among the many, many things there are in the world that bring joy to my nerdy self, Boyz II Men’s II is one of them. My earliest memories of the album was the hit song “I’ll Make Love To You” and the impact it had on radio in 1994. And as a fan of their previous hits, I was anxious to hear the whole disc. And my dad (who I credit a large chunk of my slow jam appreciation to) had bought it and told me to take a listen whenever I got a chance.I couldn’t get the CD out of the case though.
Mind you, I was 11 years old at this time. I didn’t want to admit to my parents that I was to stupid to take a CD out of its case. So I just didn’t listen to it.
For a very long time.
Eventually, on my umpteenth try, I figured out that if I pull on the CD while pushing the teeth out, good listenings would be had by all. And I listened. I’m willing to say that even 18 years later, II is still the album I’ve listened to the most in my life. Having no portable CD player or a CD player in my bedroom, I taped a copy of the album and played it at high volume…at all times. I’m willing to bet everyone in my family knows the whole album word for word. And II might be my favorite album of all time. I haven’t made a list or anything but I love this album that much.[1. Let me try to come up with a Top 5 real quick though: 1. Boyz II Men - II 2. Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt 3. New Edition - Heart Break 4. Garth Brooks - No Fences 5. Nas - I Am... And that's just with 10 minutes of thinking. I'm sure there are albums that could easily replace those.]
I played II well into 1995 because I’m pretty sure I was entering junior high school when I finally moved onto something else (I’m thinking it was 112′s debut album by then. I’m definitely an R&B nerd.). It wasn’t long before I got Cooleyhighharmony and devoured it. The classic Boyz II Men sound was there, but it didn’t have the smoothness that II possessed. So as I spent time listening to all the CDs dad was getting from BMG and Columbia House,[2. For some of you noobs out there, BMG and Columbia House were mail order services. They would offer you 10 or 20 CDs for the price of 1. Of course, after that you had to pay a monthly fee to continue to use their service. But as a kid, it was awesome.] I started wanting that new Boyz II Men album. It had taken them three years to release II after Cooleyhighharmony but I didn’t think it would take them that long to get something new out. They were one of the biggest musical acts in the world at the time, why wait another three years?[3. Somehow, even though they are credited for igniting the boy band craze, I never got any shit for liking Boyz II Men. If you were a New Kids on the Block fan when I was growing up, you got made fun of, but New Edition and Boyz II Men both got a pass. Maybe it was the R&B element to their music, maybe it was because they were black, I don't know for sure. But I was such a Boyz II Men fan that I created an R&B group in elementary school with 2 guys who couldn't sing just so I could cash in on that R&B fame. We went nowhere but it was cool seeing the girls reaction when you tell them you're in a singing group. And I could sing. Ask anyone who went to junior high with me.]
Two years later (a decade for me). “4 Seasons Of Loneliness” was released. It went to #1.
And I didn’t like it.
It wasn’t that Boyz II Men sound I was looking for. It felt like a Michael Bolton record (and I hate Michael Bolton). The video didn’t grab me.[4. I didn't have video channels until 1995, so I missed out on most of II's videos until long after they were released. Except "Water Runs Dry". I always liked that one.] The vocals were good but there was nothing that screamed “This is what I’ve been waiting for!”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the first time I was disappointed by music.
Being the true fan that I am, I made sure dad got me a copy of their new album Evolution as soon as he could. By the time I got it, “4 Seasons…” had grown on me a little but there was no way the whole album would disappoint me.
Evolution. When the times are great, they’re great (see: “Doin’ Just Fine”, “A Song For Mama”, “Can You Stand The Rain”, “Never”). When they’re bad, they’re dreadful (see: tracks 8-12).They always say it’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice and that it’s hard to overcome the sophomore slump. Boyz II Men had a junior slump. They were the William Gates of my music lifetime.[5. William Gates was a stand out high school player at Isiah Thomas' old high school St. Joseph's in the late 80's/early 90's. He peaked his sophomore year. Knee injuries kept him from ever reaching that potential again. Watch the movie Hoop Dreams. No, right now. This article can wait.] I gave the album as many listens as I could before I moved on to other things (mainly, No Way Out and Big Willie Style), but for all intents and purposes, I moved on from my Boyz II Men phase.
As the years went on, I would occasionally drift back to II with fond memories, but with the dawn of the mp3 and all these wondrous ways we have of accessing music, I would run across a stray Boyz II Men track every now and then. And for some reason, last week I thought to myself, “I’d really like to listen to Evolution again.”
So while I was editing Justin’s Katie Richter article the other morning, I clicked on Spotify and listened to the whole album for the first time in at least 14 years. And the second half of the album is still pretty shitty. Maybe the guys went into “Fuck you Motown” mode and phoned in the rest of the album (there were apparently label issues around that time). But hearing those first 7 tracks just made me wonder what could have been.
I owned Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya but I never listened to the whole album. I didn’t listen to a full Boyz II Men album again until last year’s Twenty. The former quartet is now a trio, with Mike’s health issues forcing him to retire in 2003. Twenty was a decent album, but nothing that I wanted to listen to for hours at a time. The interesting part about the record though, was how the group re-recorded several of their old hits. I have no idea why they did this, but the updated versions still sounded pretty crisp.
So 18 years after the release of II, the guys are still touring the world, getting stars on the Walk of Fame, and living the dream that started at their Philadelphia high school. I came t h i s close to seeing them live for the first time after a Pirates game this summer, but my nephew decided to graduate that same day. And even if I never get to see Boyz II Men throw it down live, I’ll always have their good debut album, their stellar second effort, and their half dope third album.
And we’ll be in a serious argument if you try to say another group is better.
Long live “Motownphilly”.
WRITER’S NOTE: It hasn’t even been a week and songs I wrote off from Evolution are getting stuck in my head. “Come One”, “Human II (Don’t Turn Your Back on Me)”, “To The Limit”, and “Dear God” have all made the rounds. Maybe Evolution’s second half isn’t so bad.