Pleasure and Pain
ny vocal group’s greatest asset, R&B; or boy band alike, is an instantly recognizable voice that stands out from the harmonies and gives them their trademark. Often this isn’t the most talented singer in the group, simply the most unique. In the case of 112, that voice belongs to Marvin “Slim” Scandrick, a thin, almost feminine tone that matches his nickname and physique. Positioned up front and singing lead on the first verse more often than not, or simply stating his singsong “112 is rockin’ this” calling card at the top, it’s Slim that lets you know you’re hearing a 112 song and not, say, Jagged Edge. But arguably 112’s true greatest asset is Daron Jones, who may not possess as distinctive a voice but writes and produces the bulk of 112’s albums, in addition to producing songs for Usher and Toni Braxton.
112’s fifth album, Pleasure and Pain, named after a song from their 1996 debut, is positioned as a something of a comeback, rebounding from 2003’s Hot & Wet. After leaving their original home at Bad Boy Records and signing a high profile new deal with Island/Def Jam, Hot & Wet was an embarrassing flop, selling nowhere near its predecessors thanks to guest-heavy up-tempo singles that died at radio. So it’s no surprise that Pleasure and Pain’s first single “U Already Know” goes wisely for the sultry, sexed up territory that 112 is best at and best known for. In the past, even 112’s best up-tempo hits, such as “Anywhere” and “Peaches & Cream,” relied on smoldering sexuality more than dancefloor hooks.
Much of the album relies on those trusty babymakers, but again, Pleasure and Pain’s iffiest moments occur when they link up with rappers and try to make a club jam. “If I Hit” featuring T.I. resembles Usher’s “Yeah!” so closely that it’s hard not to imagine it was intended as a deliberate knockoff. It doesn’t help matters that the lyrics have hostile, misogynistic overtones, and that’s just the R&B; parts.
Compared to 112’s warnings “if I hit, promise I ain’t gonna hear nothin’ from ya, no nigga runnin’ up with that drama,” T.I. comes off relatively level-headed, signing off his verse with the eloquent “before you take off your panties we should have an understandin’.” “Closing The Club” featuring Three 6 Mafia is even more jarring in the context of the album, although 112 give one of their best performances on the album, singing the verses in the double-time rap-influenced cadence that R. Kelly has experimented with so often lately.
Although Daron Jones brings a reliable level of craftsmanship to his productions, the contributions of other producers tend to stand out from his in the context of the album. Mario Winans’ chiming, Asian-flavored melody makes “Last To Know” stick out like a sore thumb in the opening stretch of samey ballads. On “The Way,” Jermaine Dupri interpolates Jay-Z’s underrated 2000 single “Change The Game,” creating a nearly identical beat with slightly different drum and synth sounds that don’t quite hit as hard as Rick Rock’s thumping track on the original. But the highlight of the album, “My Mistakes,” is provided by St. Louis production duo Track Boyz, best known for J-Kown’s “Tipsy” and a grimy, almost lo-fi sound that one wouldn’t expect to translate well to R&B.; “My Mistakes” is full of backwards kick drums and metallic ding-dong melodies, but they slide gracefully underneath R&B; guitar licks and a typically butter-smooth 112 performance full of pleading regret.
In fact, there seems to be a running thread of regret and ruined relationships throughout the album. From “What If” and “I’m Sorry (Interlude)” to “Why Can’t We Get Along,” breakups figure perhaps more prominently than romance in the album’s subject matter. But with the exception of the braying, overdramatic “What The Hell Do You Want,” the melancholy tracks never break up the overall soothing vibe enough to stop Pleasure and Pain from doing what an R&B; album’s supposed to do: set the mood.