Bell Biv DeVoe
Big Ten / Universal
1988 was a banner year for the New Edition family, when the neo-doo wop group hit it larger than ever with Johnny Gill and the NE exile, Bobby Brown, spun his prerogative into multi-platinum sales. However, with group success comes solo projects. The voices, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant, were outta there, leaving Ricky Bell, Mike Bivins, and Ron DeVoe behind in back-up singer obscurity. Much to their credit, they didn’t take the screwing lying down, formed Bell Biv DeVoe, and exploded onto the charts with “Poison.”
The problem with their first album, Poison, was that, despite “Poison,” “Do Me,” and “When Will I See You Smile Again,” it became all-too-apparent why the trio was the back-up. They really couldn’t sing all that well.
But that was 1989. 2002 is a completely different time, and R&B fans (who historically have been quite elitist about their singers’ voices) have been inundated with singers whose vocal chords would’ve been ripped out of their throats for daring to step on stage 30 years ago. Nowadays, production is king. The beat overrides the voice every time, and technology can smooth over even the roughest voices.
In this new millennial light, BBD is a surprisingly good album. They’ve brought in a bunch of production help (with Rockwilder of Janet Jackson, Destiny’s Child, and Missy Elliot fame and The Casey Brothers of Jagged Edge repute — just to name a few) to give them that R&B bounce that dominates the airwaves. Despite what his ego tells him, Bivins could never rap — but neither can Mase, Puff, or Jay Z, so why should he stop. Their solo voices still strain, but they don’t sound so discordant in today’s thin chorus, and, when they imitate Blackstreet, it works all right. The one thing they can do, though, is harmonize, which makes a lot of the songs too catchy. Other than this, the CD is quite typical — with the usual cartoon sex machismo and lifestyles of the pimp and famous — but definitely more enjoyable than it would’ve been a decade ago.