No mere breakthrough, 1991's Cooleyhighharmony was one of the decade's biggest debuts, setting Boyz II Men well on their path to becoming what the RIAA certified the most successful R&B group of all time. Their sound, dubbed "hip-hop doo-wop" and aided in large part by the productions and arrangements of Dallas Austin, was a shrewd and flexible mix of contemporary and throwback elements. Fully exploiting the members' stunning vocal chops on ballads as a close harmony group, while hardly washed out when matched with densely layered upbeat material (new jack swing was still in full flight), the group put a mature collegiate spin on what were, at the time, the last two New Edition albums, updating the techniques reminiscent of the doo wop covered on Under the Blue Moon within a set that was as modern-sounding as the singles off Heart Break. It contains that rare mix of hot singles with several album cuts that could have just as easily been hits, the ultimate measure of a release that is both commercially and creatively successful. While the album was carried by four Top Ten R&B singles, two of which -- the swinging, anthemic "Motownphilly" and an a cappella version of the Cooley High soundtrack's "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," the tear duct activator of 1991/1992 -- went Top Five on the pop chart, there is substantial depth. The non-single highlights include the sweet slow jam "This Is My Heart," sonically somewhere between Gwen Guthrie's "Outside in the Rain" and an organic Babyface ballad, and the frantic new jack swinger "Under Pressure," perhaps too much like "Motownphilly" or Dallas Austin's most chaotic Bomb Squad-inspired productions. In its original ten-song form, in fact, Cooleyhighharmony is a brisk 40-minute set built for front-to-back listening, though the sequencing is more natural with the "adagio" and "allegro" halves switched up. For many of those responsible for its multi-platinum status, it is the album of the early '90s, "Uhh Ahh"'s amusing libidinal melisma notwithstanding.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman