Baltimore native Mario found success with his self-titled debut in 2002. However, it was the singer’s follow-up disc where folks really began to take notice. Turning Point, Mario’s sophomore disc, arrived in stores on December 7, 2004.
The singer was already basking in the success of the album’s lead single, “Let Me Love You,” a mid-tempo R&B ballad written by Ne-Yo, Kameron Houff, and Scott Storch and produced by Storch. Initially, Ne-Yo wanted to give the track to the late great Gerard Levert. There were also rumors that Omarion begged for the song. However, due to Omarion’s average vocals, Ne-Yo refused to give it to him.
I always likened Mario to Tevin Campbell, because both young men had stronger voices than some men did twice their age. Quite honestly, “Let Me Love You” was Mario’s equivalent to Campbell’s “Can We Talk.” Not only because of the chart’s success either. Moreover, it gained both men a signature song. Tevin Campbell and Mario can perform these songs for the rest of their lives anywhere in the world. Mario opens up Turning Point with “18,” which features a few bars from his then-label mate Cassidy. I get the vibe that Mario was going for with the song, as he wants to explain to folks that he is more mature now. While it is catchy and more than likely came across well live, the song has not aged particularly well.
“Couldn’t Say No” comes from the pen of Sean Garrett and features production by Neff-U. Mario has a decent vocal on the song, but the production never really impressed me. Things pick up with the next song, “Boom” (featuring Juvenile). Produced by Lil Jon, “Boom’s” mission was to try to duplicate the success of Usher’s “Yeah” and “Goodies” by Ciara. While the song had good intentions, Mario did not succeed with the short-lived Crunk R&B phase.
“How Could You” is up next and is still one of my favorite Mario records. The production duo The Underdogs gave Mario a great song about heartbreak. In addition, they contribute to the songwriting with Antonio Dixon, Eric Dawkins, and J. Valentine. “Girl I Need” (featuring Baby Cham) and “Call the Cops” are both solid albums tracks, but “Here I Go Again” screams filler. Thankfully, Mario gives a solid trilogy of vocal smoothness towards the end of the album.
Mario starts the ballad run with “Nikes Fresh out the Box.” I have always seen the song as his successor to “Braid My Hair.” From the title alone, one would think the song would not work, but it does. Why Mario did not try to run a dual promotion with Nike for this song is one of life’s many mysteries. Harold Lilly and Melvin Coleman contribute the lush ballad “Directions,” that I still play seventeen years later. While Carvin & Ivan provide the strong ballad “Like Me Real Hard,” with a message we can all relate to when you are pursuing a relationship.
Before closing the album with a remix of “Let Me Love You,” Mario links up with producer Allstar for the solid album track entitled “Shakedown.” Despite a few questionable moments in the song sequencing, Turning Point was a solid sophomore effort.
Initial Listen Grade (Age 23): B
Re Listen Grade (Age 40): B
Top Songs: “Let Me Love You,” “Directions,” “Like Me Real Hard” and “How Could You”
Turning Point is available on all streaming platforms.