1991, Music

Cooleyhighharmony (1991) by Boyz II Men

I began to mature as a music fan in a world where Boyz II Men were ubiquitous. It felt like you couldn’t avoid them because, unlike so many other artists on the music video channels I watched, they were also played in malls, in doctor’s offices, everywhere.

But this first one, well I don’t know anything about it. I guess that’s because I was 9 when it came out and the hits were hits when I was too young. I remember “End of the Road” so that must be the point when I started to really become aware of popular music that my step-sister didn’t listen to (my family didn’t listen to contemporary popular music generally).

Boyz II Men did not appeal to me at the time, as I was transitioning from oldies to classic rock in my interests and, if they sounded like either, it was oldies (though they obviously don’t). But all these years later, the whole thing remains kind of a mystery to me. They look hilariously unhip, they’re so earnest it’s hard to see how Gen X didn’t spurn them immediately and this album is mostly ballads. (Though there are a couple of hilariously dated New Jack Swing things, which sound completely out of place.)

And yet this album sold a bazillion copies. And it launched an era in which, as I noted, you couldn’t escape Boyz II Men.
Is there something on this record that makes me understand all this?

No. None of their biggest hits that I remember are here. There are some big hits, but I listen to them and I just have no idea.

It does feel very much like they were setting up the template for the ’90s slow jam with this record. But the slow jam is something that, all these years later, I still don’t understand. (I get the nostalgia people feel for them now, as I too am getting older. But I don’t get what it was that made them such a big craze during the ’90s.)

But there’s nothing here that I can hear that explains to me what happened. I do wonder how much of the success of this record, and their later career, was that they were just so different from everyone in Hip Hop, and from everyone in Rock. Perhaps it’s a mixture of their undeniable vocal talent, their resemblance of vocal groups of yore (and it was fucking yore by that point) and their seeming purity – all they want to do is sing emotional songs and they don’t have any of the baggage of all these other performers.

I don’t know what else it could be. Certainly this album does absolutely nothing for me.


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