Maybe I just liked it when they were Boyz, trying to be Men, but not quite there yet. Perhaps it was the journey of becoming Men that really fascinated me and captured that lightning in a bottle because once they became Men they just haven’t been putting out the same level of music. I remember a few years ago when someone said that there was no clearcut “new Boyz II Men” and I thought, “But Boyz II Men is still around.” Then I thought some more, and I realized that they really aren’t. Not the way they used to be anyway.
They defined my adolescence just as much or more than any other singer/group of the early ’90s. “Water Runs Dry” still brings me back to high school faster than just about anything else will outside of Rod Stewart’s “Motown Song” and LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.” There was just something to be said about amazing melodies, harmonies, and refrains, and the Boyz did it better than most.
Then the ’90s began to wane, though, and the boy band took over from the actual boy group. A subtle distinction, I guess, but one that is important to make. As groups like Backstreet Boys and N*Sync blew into town on their white horses the old black stallion of Boyz II Men just seemed out of date anymore, and they seemed to know it. They spent a lot of their time and energy trying to remain “hip” that they lost touch with what made them so special in the first place. They began to morph into some kind of dance group, which didn’t resonate. At all.
Now they spend a lot of their time (minus a member) singing cover tunes, their poor versions of other groups’/singers’ hits. No, I didn’t want to hear them sing the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris.” I honestly have no idea who wanted to hear that. Or even Peter Cetera’s “If You Leave Me Now.” When did they decide that becoming a karaoke group was preferential to continuing to trailblaze? And now they’ve completely lost their way with a new album that, while it doesn’t plumb the depths for cover tunes, does nothing to enhance the brand, relying on overproduction and more dance friendly tunes.
I guess I just miss the Boyz more than I thought I would. It happens to everyone, I guess, most notably to those child stars who lose their way as they move on with their lives, as they grow up, but it’s sad to see. I find myself listening to those first two Boyz II Men albums and pretending that’s all they ever did because it’s better that way. No one likes to see a decline after it’s already happened, especially with one of their favorite groups. Right now I’m listening to “I Sit Away” and hoping that the group reunites with L.A. Reid and Babyface just once more before they call it quits, maybe with a last chance to recreate some magic.
But then again, I hope they don’t. Because if it’s still not magical I might lose my belief in the magic of being Men, real Men who don’t have to rely on the Boyz they used to be anymore.