Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Boyz II Men: It's a Men thing

Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men Boyz II Men Boyz II Men Boyz II Men

Following their recent UK live dates, Philadelphia’s 60-plus-million-selling superstar R&B trio Boyz II Men this month deliver their twelfth studio album - the musically-diverse “Collide” which is currently being pioneered by its hauntingly-melodic offshoot ballad single “Losing Sleep”.

Taking in elements of numerous sounds, styles and genres, “Collide” does indeed prove one of the group’s more musically-experimental sets to date. Its varied moods ranging from the guitar-driven, stadium-rock-tinged “Diamond Eyes” and catchy, upbeat pop/rock of “Me Myself And I” to the swaying doo wop-flavoured ballad “What Happens In Vegas” and the poundingly-urgent R&B groover “Don’t Stop”.

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 Philadelphia’s 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 Edition’s “Can You Stand The Rain”.

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 “Motownphilly”. Yet, while the drum-heavy, hip hop/soul-infused new jack swing sound-of-the-day would dominate the foursome’s nine-million-selling first album “Coolyhighharmony”, 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 (1992’s global-chart-topper “End Of The Road”; 1994’s “I’ll Make Love To You”; and 1995’s “One Sweet Day”) 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 “One Sweet Day” still to this day holding the record)!

Nevertheless, groundbreaking statistics aside, with internal label politics gradually leading to disappointingly-decreasing sales (their 1997 “Evolution” 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 (“Throwback”) independently.

Since which time the threesome have released three further albums independently (2006’s “The Remedy”; 2009’s “Love”; 2011’s “Twenty”) as well as returning to transatlantic Top Ten status in 2007 with their Grammy-nominated Universal/Decca Records release “Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville”, 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 Vegas’ Mirage Hotel and Casino, Boys II Men’s Shawn Stockman reacquaints himself with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing interview regarding the trio’s aforementioned new LP while simultaneously discussing the ups and downs of the group’s trailblazing career so far.

How their musically-more-experimental new album “Collide” came about and Shawn’s personal feelings about it

“When BMG came up to us and told us ‘Hey, we want you guys to make another album’, we were like ‘That’s FINE, but only if we do the album we want to DO’. You know, we basically told them ‘Please don’t try to look for another “End Of The Road”, please don’t look for another “I’ll Make Love To You” - because those songs cannot be PRODUCED again, that’s trying to catch lightning in a BOTTLE’. I mean, it’s 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 we’re 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 “Collide” 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 we’ve ever DONE… So yeah, to me “Collide” is just a great, great record that my guys and I were very happy to DO. Because it’s a whole new direction for us and it’s given us a whole new life CREATIVELY.”

How Shawn looks back today on Boyz II Men’s 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

“I 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 can’t say too much else ABOUT it - except that it was life-changing in so many WAYS for us. Like we’ll 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 we’re just trying to keep it all as preserved as POSSIBLE. It’s like we put it into the back of our minds and then every once in a while certain things might come up and we’ll start smiling and laughing and be like ‘DAMN I miss those days!’… So yeah, great, great TIMES!”

The album “Collide” and single “Losing Sleep” are both out now through Absolute Recordings.


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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.

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