Comparisons to the originals will always be made and are often less than complimentary.
Gemma Padley 2007
It’s a brave thing to do – even for a band as successful as Boyz II Men. The vocal R&B group, who formed in 1988, have released a new compilation – Motown: A Journey through Hitsville USA – an album of covers of seminal Motor City moments, and their first major label release in five years. It is a brave decision for one obvious reason: There will be endless comparisons to the original recordings. This could well set the Philadelphia quintet (now trio) up for a fall.
Across the album, those trademark soul-filled harmonies are still le plat du jour. When listening to the recordings - featuring covers of sacred cows such as Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and The Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There" it's difficult not to be distracted by a niggling voice constantly asking, 'why not just listen to the original?' Produced by American Idol judge, Randy Jackson, it is unsurprising the album’s leaning is towards the blander pop end of the scale.
Opening track, the Temptations' "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)", admittedly retains many of the original instrumental inflections, but the smooth production dampens the breezy vocals making the song dirgey and over-polished.
Take the Marvin Gaye voice away and "Mercy Mercy Me" is a boat without sails. Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her", while an acceptable effort, has lost much of its attitudey-soulfulness and swinging passion. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "The Tracks of My Tears", limps along; lackluster and lifeless.
The best song may be the aforementioned "Reach Out I'll Be There" - where modern production is kept at bay - but most interesting is the acapella cover of Wonder’s "Ribbon In the Sky". Rich and complex vocals tempered by acid dissonance lend new character. The album closes with a new recording of Boyz II Men’s biggest single, "End Of The Road".
As a collection showcasing the Boyz II Men vocal talents Motown: A Journey through Hitsville USA is a strong body of songs. But, just as people will always sneer at any X Factor contestant who sings a Whitney ballad, comparisons to the originals will always be made and are often less than complimentary.