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Review: "Under the Streetlight" - Boyz II Men

by Roger Wink, VVN Music

Doo Wop music can be one of the most organic and sweetest sound that has ever been set on record.  Just four or five voices in close harmony with little to no instrumentation, a blending of sounds that can express everything from heartbreak to extreme exuberance.

The sound of Doo Wop has rarely been revived in recent years and, when it has, it is with mixed results. Aaron Neville's brilliant 2013 album My True Story added an extra layer of instruments to some of the songs that he covered but the sound of his and the harmonizing voices still felt very authentic as if they had been transplanted from the 50's.

That's not the case with the new album, Under the Streetlight, by Boyz II Men. While the three remaining members of the group, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman, are superb vocalists, their slickness may have been too much for these covers.

Doo Wop was never slick.  It depended on tight harmonies but, most of the time, those sounds were provided by kids who learned their craft singing on a street corner.  It was skilled vocals that always retained a sound of someone who was not a classically trained singer.

The Boyz II Men sound, with added instrumentation and guest singers (Take 6, Brian McKnight, Amber Riley), is just too perfect, too sophisticated.  It reminds me of when the Manhattan Transfer, one of the most talented harmony groups of all time, would branch out into Doo Wop.  It just never sounded authentic.

"Tears on My Pillow" should have that simple bass line followed by voices, not the little guitar flourishes and a bit of vocal histrionics before even getting to the first harmonies.

"A Thousand Miles Away" starts out promisingly with Morris' baritone voice before the harmonies come in sounding more like the Jordaniares or the previously mentioned Manhattan Transfer instead of a bunch of kids who sang by a light post late at night.

There are a couple of really good cuts on the album where all of the flourishes have been left out, especially Sam Cooke's "I'll Come Running Back to You" and the album closing original "Ladies Man", but the overproduced and arranged outweigh the good.

Boyz II Men are one of the biggest vocal groups of the last sixty years, hitting the top of the Hot 100 for 13 weeks with "End of the Road", 14 weeks with "I'll Make Love to You" and 16-weeks with Mariah Carey on "One Sweet Day" plus lesser runs with "On Bended Knee" and "4 Seasons of Loneliness".  They also proved their Doo Wop chops in 1993 with the top three cover of "In the Still of the Night", which stayed much closer to the source recording than anything here.

Boyz II Men need to get back to those simpler times and record an album of original material showcasing their superb talent and not go on to another (fifth) covers album.