Mario’s Sophomore Release Turning Point: The Calm Before the Storm

Honestly, there’s nothing terribly special I can say about Mario and his sophomore release, Turning Point, because there’s nothing terribly special about him or his album. Or is there? I mean, to the casual onlooker, Mario appears to be nothing more than an ordinary, unassuming young male R&B singer whose forte is the smooth, slightly above-average R&B sound populating the airwaves. His voice, while not powerhouse, is strong.

His material is indicative of his age, although he does make some subtle yet bold attempts to prove just how much of a grown man he really is. And his production team is the reliable arsenal of the more underrated R&B classmen. As I said, nothing terribly special nor originalâÂ?¦right? Maybe so. But there’s also the feeling that this similitude is a bit of an act. The calm before the storm, if you will.

More than once on his sophomore release does Mario subtly hint at the fact that this is only the beginning and that he’s just taking his time before he pulls out the big guns and shows what he’s really capable of. It kinda makes one keep their guard on while listening to this album and wondering if Mario is just teasing us with glimpses of his capabilities or if this is all he’s really capable of.

It’s a given that Mario’s going to be compared to Usher and for ALL the obvious reasons. But right off the bat, Mario lets it be known that such comparisons aren’t appreciated on the personal anthem of an opener, 18. With a lighter, falsetto tone on the verses and a more fired tone on the hook, Mario proclaims that he’s on a mission of his own and he’s not trying to emulate someone else’s style or replace a certain R&B superstar. As far as he’s concerned; he’s got “7 years to catch up.” But even with its message, and a cameo from label mate Cassidy, the overall song is a bit lackluster and a tad stale, making for a somewhat weak start to the album.

But it’s quickly corrected by the next track being Mario’s smash breakout lead single, Let Me Love You. I assume no one predicted this song to propel to the top of the charts, let alone hang in there for months on end. It is a great song, with its mellow, calm R&B vibe courtesy of Scott Storch, Mario’s tender vocal performance (evoking the essence of another R&B superstar), and its heartfelt lyricism. Definitely one of the most surprising, but deserved, #1’s in a while.

Yet as soon as he sweeps the girl off her feet, he has to turn around and break her heart on the surprisingly upbeat Couldn’t Say No. Against a bed of strings, handclaps, and teardrops, Mario casually and calmly reveals his doggish ways, only to express regret in the same breath. This is an instance where the material seems out of his league; especially with lines like, “I think of how I was picking them legs up” and the overall record sounds a bit too plain to really make you interested in Mario’s wrongdoings.

But funny how Mario was adamant about not wanting to be compared to Usher only to turn around and rip off his massive hit, “Yeah!” for his own pitiful Lil Jon affair, titled Boom. And what a cheap imitation it is, from the driving synth line to the handclaps, bass, and whatever else makes up this mess of a beat. The rip-off is so blatant and has no shame, replete with Juvenile playing Ludacris to Mario’s Usher. The noticeable absence of Lil’ Jon’s spastic ad-libs hints at the notion that even Jon knew how pitiful this party-starter truly is. Sorry, no “A” for effort on this one.

And then Mario reverts right back to aiming his weapons of mass seduction at the hearts of the core of his fan base; trying to drum up a little sympathy from his female listeners on second single, How Could You. Karma came and bit Marion on the butt big time and now he’s in disbelief, agonizing over his heartache while slyly earning sympathy points. Following up a mid-tempo lead single with a ballad is a bold move but Mario’s got enough faith in his ability to make the ladies swoon that it looks like he’ll score even more brownie points.

But my vote for the pick of the litter would have to go to the bouncing reggae tune that is Girl I Need. Harold Lilly’s reggae-flavored production has an understated laidback feel to it, but contains enough of a bounce and swing to keep you in motion. The lyrical scheme isn’t amazing or terribly profound but Mario’s requirements for a lady friend are genuine and relatable; I’m sure no guy would oppose a woman who fit Mario’s bill. Baby Cham’s guest appearance is unnecessary but does keep things interesting and overall, this is the song with the best concept and executionâÂ?¦to me.

On the flipside, Call The Cops is about as generic as it gets. Scott Storch’s production sounds like a cheap, unfinished Neptunes knock-off and the lyrical scheme is a bit dense and redundant. Ok, not a bit. It is generic. Big surprise Mario wrote this; it’s completely indicative of his age and proves that the majority of this album is nothing more than song’s Mario’s singing, not actual events he’s been through.

Purported third single, Here I Go Again, is a nice and welcome change of pace. A heavier up tempo with more of a rock edge, Mario’s vocals sound fuller and he sound’s more energized and entertaining riding the beat. The lyrical pattern is similar to Brandy’s “I Tried” and makes for one catchy as all get-out of a record that’s effective with its intentions.

Then things take a creatively absurd, or perhaps an inspired, turn. Think about it; what woman wouldn’t love to compared to a fresh pair of all-white Air Force Ones? Better yet, what woman wouldn’t love for her man to treat her like Nikes Fresh Out The Box? if he has a shoe fetish, the pleasure and pampering might be endless. And Mario assures against Harold Lilly’s mellow, throwback production (take notes, Kanye) that “I won’t scuff her up, I’ll lace her up right.” Now either that’s the sweetest or silliest romantic analogy you’ve heard but you gotta give my man props for originality. Then the album kinda ends in a creative slump.

Harold Lilly follows up with Directions, and his production is mood-setting but nothing terribly stimulating. And thankfully the lyricism does manage to steer clear of most of the cheesy driving/sex analogies sans a few lines – “you gonna make a left on Touchin’ Blvd/when you see Kissin’ St./make a right, keep straight and go all the way/and that will run you in to good love” – but Mario does sound a bit inexperienced and out of his league on this tune.

He regains his footing and moves back into more familiar territory with the following ballad, Like Me Real Hard. It’s almost self-explanatory, with Mario revealing his feelings for a certain young lady, and reassuring her that he doesn’t want to rush, not even fall in love. He just wants her to like him as hard as he likes her. The live production, especially the percussion, is a nice touch but the overall song is just a bit too yawn-inducing.

And Mario does try to end things with a bang courtesy of the Allstar-helmed Shakedown. But Allstar could use a bigger production budget to avoid making his future productions sound soâÂ?¦economical and the club mentality of the overall song would make for a surefire way to clear the floor and give the DJ a couple of dirty looks. And let’s not forget the garish remix of Let Me Love You, featuring Jadakiss and T.I., which turns the original into a mindless piece of club drivel that gives the record the most forgettable ending possible.

I don’t think this album is so much a ‘turning point’ for Mario as it is the calm before the storm. It might be a turning point in the sense that he’s realized just how much talent he possesses and in what direction he can actually propel his career. But this album is pretty much a standard R&B album but Mario doesn’t seem to be a standard R&B artist.

His lyricism could use some fine-tuning but he’s definitely got the vocal power and the ‘look’ to ease him into the role of superstardom, which convinces me that the best is yet to come and this is just an average foretaste. So I do recommend this album but I also recommend that you expect bigger and better things to come from Mario in the future. He’s got “7 years to catch up” and it’ll be interesting to see what he does with them.

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