Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

Boyz II Men: It's a Men thing

Boyz II Men @bluesandsoul.com
Boyz II Men @bluesandsoul.com Boyz II Men @bluesandsoul.com Boyz II Men @bluesandsoul.com Boyz II Men @bluesandsoul.com

Following their recent UK live dates, Philadelphiaâs 60-plus-million-selling superstar R&B trio Boyz II Men this month deliver their twelfth studio album - the musically-diverse âCollideâ which is currently being pioneered by its hauntingly-melodic offshoot ballad single âLosing Sleepâ.

Taking in elements of numerous sounds, styles and genres, âCollideâ does indeed prove one of the groupâs more musically-experimental sets to date. Its varied moods ranging from the guitar-driven, stadium-rock-tinged âDiamond Eyesâ and catchy, upbeat pop/rock of âMe Myself And Iâ to the swaying doo wop-flavoured ballad âWhat Happens In Vegasâ and the poundingly-urgent R&B groover âDonât Stopâ.

Interestingly, while no-one could have possibly predicted the groundbreaking and history-making chart success that would follow within the course of the next decade, the Boyz II Men journey to success began humbly back in 1989 when four teenage students of Philadelphiaâs High School for Creative and Performing Arts nervously snuck backstage after a Bell Biv DeVoe concert in their hometown to serenade BBD member Michael Bivins with an a cappella rendition of New Editionâs âCan You Stand The Rainâ.

With a suitably-impressed Bivins signing the quartet in question to Motown Records the following year, Boyz II Men (comprising baritone Nathan Morrris; deep bass Michael McCary; smooth tenor Shawn Stockman; and vibrato-heavy tenor Wanya Morris) would immediately go on to top the US R&B chart with their 1991 anthemic debut single âMotownphillyâ. Yet, while the drum-heavy, hip hop/soul-infused new jack swing sound-of-the-day would dominate the foursomeâs nine-million-selling first album âCoolyhighharmonyâ, it was their penchant for soulfully emotive balladry which would find Boyz II Men prestigiously going on to become officially the biggest-selling R&B vocal group of all time. Indeed, between the years of 1992 and 1997 not only did the Philly quartet score five US Number One pop hits and sell over 60 million records worldwide, but - even more significantly - three of those Number Ones (1992âs global-chart-topper âEnd Of The Roadâ; 1994âs âIâll Make Love To Youâ; and 1995âs âOne Sweet Dayâ) in turn set, and then broke, the record for the longest-ever stay at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 (the sixteen-week reign of said Mariah Carey duet âOne Sweet Dayâ still to this day holding the record)!

Nevertheless, groundbreaking statistics aside, with internal label politics gradually leading to disappointingly-decreasing sales (their 1997 âEvolutionâ LP selling just three million copies), 1999 would see the once-world-conquering, four-time Grammy-winning foursome leaving Motown for relatively low-profile stays with both Universal and Arista Records. Meanwhile, with distinctive bass singer Michael McCary retiring from the group in 2003, 2004 would find the group releasing their first album as a trio (âThrowbackâ) independently.

Since which time the threesome have released three further albums independently (2006âs âThe Remedyâ; 2009âs âLoveâ; 2011âs âTwentyâ) as well as returning to transatlantic Top Ten status in 2007 with their Grammy-nominated Universal/Decca Records release âMotown: A Journey Through Hitsvilleâ, an album of covers from the Motown catalogue.

All of which brings us neatly back to today. As, with the group taking a break from their current prestigious residency at Las Vegasâ Mirage Hotel and Casino, Boys II Menâs Shawn Stockman reacquaints himself with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing interview regarding the trioâs aforementioned new LP while simultaneously discussing the ups and downs of the groupâs trailblazing career so far.

How their musically-more-experimental new album âCollideâ came about and Shawnâs personal feelings about it

âWhen BMG came up to us and told us âHey, we want you guys to make another albumâ, we were like âThatâs FINE, but only if we do the album we want to DOâ. You know, we basically told them âPlease donât try to look for another âEnd Of The Roadâ, please donât look for another âIâll Make Love To Youâ - because those songs cannot be PRODUCED again, thatâs trying to catch lightning in a BOTTLEâ. I mean, itâs like those songs served a purpose at the time they were supposed to SERVE it. And so when people are looking for another batch of those records these days we basically just explain to them that weâre not just guys that do things on a WHIM. We are ARTISTS and musically we tend to follow our HEARTS, and at this point in time âCollideâ was something we all felt that we had to do for OURSELVES. It was just one of those records we needed as a group to DO. And so while a lotta people who are expecting standard Boyz II Men music may be a little taken aback when they first listen to it, I personally feel when you get past all of that and you really hear the depth and timeless quality of the songs and the substance in the music it really does stand up as some of the best work weâve ever DONE⦠So yeah, to me âCollideâ is just a great, great record that my guys and I were very happy to DO. Because itâs a whole new direction for us and itâs given us a whole new life CREATIVELY.â

How Shawn looks back today on Boyz II Menâs halcyon days of record-breaking success in the Nineties, which in turn made them one of the most successful US chart acts of all time

âI look at it as a moment in time that I preserve and kinda keep under a glass for me to be able to look at every once in a while. Because it was a time that obviously not only shaped us and made us who we are but I guess also made people all over the world love and appreciate us as ARTISTS, because those songs WERE GREAT - you know, I still love performing them TODAY. I mean, I canât say too much else ABOUT it - except that it was life-changing in so many WAYS for us. Like weâll all get together sometimes and look back and talk about certain moments and think about that whole era and that whole time... So yeah, like I say, I guess weâre just trying to keep it all as preserved as POSSIBLE. Itâs like we put it into the back of our minds and then every once in a while certain things might come up and weâll start smiling and laughing and be like âDAMN I miss those days!â⦠So yeah, great, great TIMES!â

The album âCollideâ and single âLosing Sleepâ are both out now through Absolute Recordings.

BoysIIMen

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To read more from our interview with Boyz II Men, including the full story behind their departure from iconic label Motown Records and one time member Michael McCary having to leave band⦠pick up a copy of the latest Blues & Soul magazine at your local magazine retailer, inc; WH Smith, Menzies + selected Euro Foods, Cost Cutters and a plethora of independents everywhere⦠if they don't stock it, ask for a "B&S shop save" and they will get it for you.
Words PETE LEWIS

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