98° Aim To Heat Up Beat On New LP

Pop-soul quartet plans to write and produce most of fourth disc, due in summer.

LOS ANGELES — Though 98° built their reputation with sweet soul ballads, the pop quartet vows to boost the dance tracks on its upcoming fourth LP.

"We're going to try to step it up and make it a little more mature with some uptempo stuff," 98°'s Jeff Timmons said recently. "We wrote and produced half of the last album, but we're aiming to do more of that this time."

The harmony-driven R&B group's 98° and Rising (1998) leaned heavily on love songs, including its hit cover of country singer Mark Wills' "I Do (Cherish You)" (RealAudio excerpt of 98° version). The group can be heard on Mariah Carey's ballad "Thank God I Found You" (RealAudio excerpt), the #2 single on this week's Billboard Hot 100 chart.

98° will begin recording the new album early next month. They plan to continue working throughout the spring, with the hope of having the LP ready for an early summer release.

Though the members have some goals in mind for the disc, group member Justin Jeffre said they'll allow plenty of room for spontaneity.

"Fortunately we love what we do, and we're looking forward to getting back to being creative in the studio and just having fun with it," he said. "That's the main goal for this next album — just to do what feels good and have fun with it."

The group, which also includes brothers Drew and Nick Lachey, discussed its recording plans after taping the premiere episode of the "Farmclub.com" cable-television show.

Drew said he and the others wrote several songs on the road but didn't always have their own album in mind.

"We've written songs with other artists in mind, so we're trying to expand into different parts of the business," he said.

Though all four members of 98° are from Ohio, the group didn't form until after Timmons moved here to pursue a music career. Timmons decided to put together a group and contacted Nick and Jeffre, two of his former classmates at the Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts. Soon after, the two packed their bags and headed to California. The lineup was sealed when Drew left his job as an emergency medical technician in Brooklyn (N.Y.) and joined them.

Their big break came backstage at a Boyz II Men show when they met Paris D'Jon, co-manager of R&B artist Montell Jordan. D'Jon helped them nab a deal with Motown.

The quartet's 1997 self-titled debut was preceded by the hit single "Invisible Man" (RealAudio excerpt). The love song hit #12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

98° and Rising followed and included a collaboration with Stevie Wonder on "True to Your Heart." The disc included production work by the Trackmasters (Mariah Carey, Will Smith, LL Cool J) and Pras of the Fugees. Last year, 98° released the holiday album This Christmas.