Latter-day cover albums typically signal an act’s desire to stop and take stock. For Boyz II Men’s current incarnation as a trio (Michael McCary departing due to health issues), it seems a conscious effort to retain their commercial appeal. After all, the group ranks 4th behind Elvis, The Beatles, and Mariah Carey for time spent at no.1 on the Billboard. Who can blame them for wanting to cement their iconic status? But after spending most of the 2000’s releasing cover albums – 3 of 6 since 2002 – is it time to look forward, not back?
With Under The Streetlight, the Boyz (late 40’s Men by now) return to the sounds of early 60’s R&B and doo-wop. Covering acts like Sam Cooke, Carole King, and Frankie Lymon – they draw from the same Great American Songbook that’s inspired recent albums by Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow. As a result, the album finds the group veering towards a more old-fashioned sound that belies their relative youth. It makes the 90’s seems like a long time ago, and runs the risk of alienating fans too young to buy into the album’s dated nostalgia.
Fortunately, the Men still have a solid grasp of harmony and the tightly polished ability that comes from 30 years of performing. With an array of guest performers, from Glee’s Amber Riley on Anyone Who Knows What Love Is, to Brian McKnight on I’ll Come Running Back To You, they prove that age hasn’t dulled their harmonic abilities. The album treads a pleasant enough path, but risks alienating long-term fans eager for something a bit more contemporary. As a band enters middle-age, they face the choice between seeking relevance or giving up and joining the cruise ship circuit. With their legacy secure, hopefully Boyz II Men will discover a new avenue to explore next time around.