No matter what state the industry might be in, there’s no denying that this is a sweet time for male pop-r&b singers who prefer to use only their first names. Now, just as Usher has completed his climb from kid-with-tons-of-potential to if-I-hear-or-see-him one-more-time someone-will-die, here comes Mario and his sophomore CD (following a gold debut, released when he was 15). Loaded with good, even noble intentions—most evident on the gossamer smash “Let Me Love You,” which, thanks to Mario’s modulated, lilting vocal, toes the line between carnal and chaste—and what these days passes in r&b for “songwriting” (i.e., a string of run-on sentences aimed squarely toward hooks and/or catchphrases), Turning Point picks up where Usher’s thread of aching, slightly attitudinal lover’s angst left off.
Like the superior Confessions, this album purports to be cut from the fabric of its creator’s life. These days that sort of “emotional honesty” translates into lyrics that are literal to a fault (e.g., “next time y’all underestimate me recognize that I just turned 18, that means I got seven years to catch up,” since 25 is clearly an r&b star’s optimum age) and obsessed with letting (presumably young and female) listeners know that the young man’s doing his best but, yo!, sometimes Honey Dip is so fine that even a nice guy just can’t help himself. Of course how much actual sex Mario has during his self-admitted lapses in the fidelity department is up for debate. Like many playas, he talks (or sings) a better game than he might be walking. He lacks the preening oily strut of a serial cheater, and his gentle steadiness (along with a passionate love song to Nikes) makes you wonder if he’s actually macking all that much. But considering his target audience, those little girls would understand either way.