Just as I was popping my earbuds into my computer, I looked at Jill and said “I’m only going to listen to this one once through.” I gave her the option of speakers or headphones. She chose the latter. But then I hit play and my toes were tapping less than a minute into the first song. Crisply polished production by some dudes who are actually really talented singers. I paused the album and grabbed ‘the good headphones’, which did not escape Jill’s notice. “It’s really good!” I exclaimed.
The mental image that’s persisted in my memory from Boyz II Men: II is sitting on the edge of my bed, giving the album a first listen. And those first two tracks really took me away. I loved 90s R&B like a good suburban pre-teen. I’d sing along, but only when alone. (One time I recorded myself singing “If I Ever Fall I Love Again” by Shai with my headphones on and all you could hear was my voice and all you could hear was how horrid it was.)
Of course the content is absolutely disposable. “Thank You” to the fans into “All Around the World” about touring (with another shout out to the fans). “U Know” seemed totally skippable and I began regretting subjecting myself to this album (of all those albums!) on an otherwise lovely Sunday afternoon. Suddenly there was a grown man rhythmically whispering to me “Just take a minute and catch the vibe” through the good headphones! Deep in the fifth track I felt like I’d begun an exercise in endurance. I could outlast this album, certainly this treacly song about depression. The first truly beautiful moment on the album comes in the interlude “Khalil”. Just a little piano and four dudes singing beautifully.
Finally on track 9 the hit parade begins with “I’ll Make Love to You”, and my mental lens shifts to awkward slow-dancing with hands on hips (or butts for girlfriends!). The stronger remembrance here is cheesy later-teenage Andrew who loved to sing this song to the ladies: “Throw your clothes… (Throw your clothes!) On the floor… (On the floor!)” And then I found myself singing along to each and every word (well, mouthing along, to spare my poor wife the aural torture of hearing me try to sing these notes). I became quite the ham in my later years of high school, and Boyz II Men helped provide a lot of the material.
I’m as embarrassed by my 13 year old taste in music as anyone, though I take some small solace in the fact that these guys really were talented.
I think the a capella “Yesterday” at the end of II is just beautiful. Its lack of production helps it stand the test of time, and you hear their vocal talent really shine. It was the only song on the album I played twice.