Boyz II Men have a new album.
Just saying that still sounds kind of exciting for those of us who remember when we went into stores to buy them, and when the vocal group sold more than 12 million of their second one in the ’90s.
Now it’s hard to even define what an album is. Something you pass around online? Choose an iTunes song from? That CD in the cardboard slip the singer in your neighborhood bar pulls from a backpack between sets?
About all you can say is, “Whatever it is, it can’t hurt.” Especially in Las Vegas, where for better or worse, live shows take on their own, insulated identity and can be all about looking back.
For Boyz, last week’s release of “Collide” came with news the trio will be back next year at The Mirage. Shania Twain, on the other hand, will not be back at Caesars Palace after one more stint in December. In two years, she did not finish a new album to bring her nostalgic show into the present tense.
Did it matter? No one knows, but Boyz II Men aren’t taking any chances. The new album tries to move beyond the group’s signature ballads, which would both vary the pace of the live show and — if any of these songs catch on — fight the perception that they do an “oldies show” at The Mirage.
“After doing this for so long, you just gotta do songs that feel good. It doesn’t matter what genre it is,” the group’s Nathan Morris said last spring. “One thing we told (the BMG label) was if it was going to be a typical Boyz II Men record, we didn’t want to make any more.”
Just as the group gets in a rut, fans can get bored, too, Morris adds.
“They always hold on to the classic Boyz II Men stuff,” he says. “But if you don’t give them anything that’s different, they won’t have anything else new to hold on to.”
If you can’t top the signature ballads “On Bended Knee” or “The End of the Road,” “why not try new things to try to create a different vibe for Boyz II Men where you’re not competing against yourself? You’re just making good songs.”
Good songs also seemed to be the motive for Elton John and Rod Stewart.
Neither pop-rock legend has to worry about the bottom line of album sales, so both John’s “The Diving Board” and Stewart’s “Time” were biographic, personal releases last year, with Stewart even writing his own lyrics for the first time in 20 years. Yet neither put more than a token song into their Vegas nostalgia fests.
Britney Spears is more like Boyz II Men in needing new music to reaffirm her as a current star. Her “Britney Jean” album arrived alongside her “Piece of Me” at Planet Hollywood Resort. But the disc underperformed and it’s no wonder only a couple of tracks made the live set.
Celine Dion falls somewhere in the middle. Like John and Stewart, she fills seats without record sales. But like Spears, her show is oddly nostalgic for a 46-year-old. During a stretch when she did add the title song of last year’s “Loved Me Back to Life,” it was like a shot of adrenalin.
Some Las Vegas headliners are still old-school enough to hope an album will spread their reputation beyond the city limits.
Clint Holmes, who anchors The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz, says he is about 70 percent done with his first big-budget album in decades, one with a 40-piece string section and guest stars such as Take 6 and Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Holmes says the album will slant toward jazz to “open up some of the jazz rooms and jazz festivals which always say the same thing: ‘He doesn’t have any jazz product.’ ”
Matt Goss and Frankie Moreno have both worked new channels for self-releasing music. Moreno was able to rack up some iTunes traffic for his eponymous disc after singing one cut from it, “Tangerine Honey,” on “Dancing With the Stars.”
Moreno is leaving the Stratosphere in December and will probably land somewhere else on the Strip. Regardless, he is recording two albums (live and studio) here in town as part of his new deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation entertainment company.
Moreno says that affiliation will get more attention from radio. And in that sense, he doesn’t mind being “a new artist” rather than a Vegas veteran.
“I’m trying to be the new guy,” he says. “The goal is to reach new levels Vegas has not done yet. Original artists and talented musicians making Vegas a music scene. I want to be standing in front swinging the machete to allow for all that.”
A new album? Can’t hurt.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.