New Kids On The Block – [Album]

Tuesday, 09 September 2008

After so long an absence, in cases like that of New Kids On The Block it pays to get the glib witticisms out of the way as early as possible. In that spirit, “The appearance of a new NKOTB album now – as the music industry experiences the greatest recession in its history – seems almost biblical in its connotations. After the plague of illegal downloading; after the boil infestations that were the original wave of electro clash and Sean Combs’ career in front of a mic instead of behind a desk; after the swarm of hardcore-lite bands that even included one called The Locust; and after the proliferation of really bad metal bands that included Reign Of Fire, it turns out that the bible was wrong – there aren’t three horsemen of the apocalypse, there are five.” Or, because it’s shorter, “Even though NKOTB calling an album The Block is an obvious choice because it’s part of the group’s name, it makes sense too because, at an average age of thirty-eight, by now Donny, Danny, Joey, Jonathan and Jordan have been around the entertainment industry block so often they can tell you the cracks in the sidewalk from memory.” Or shorter still, “New KIDS? What self-respecting man pushing forty still refers to himself as a kid?”

There. That felt good. Now on with the justifiable music criticism.

New Kids On The Block’s first album since 1994’s Face The Music isn’t so much a return to form or style as it is simply a return for the group after a great enough period of time that they’ve shaken the “boy band” tag under which they first appeared. With that generic break made, New Kids immediately begin chipping away to break out of the mould in earnest. Right from the very beginning of the paparazzi bashing “Click Click Click,” the group sets itself up with a tremendous amount of space between the pop-mania phenomenon it was and where it is now – there are no moments of teen steam shlock (“Single” comes closest, but even that is somehow mature enough that it’ll be a private dance favorite in strip clubs around the globe) or god-awful “Hangin’ Tough” mock macho trash (the nearest comparable numbers are the leering and creepy “Big Girl Now” and the electronic squalor of “Summertime” and “Full Service”). Instead, the New Kids On The Block go out of their way to illustrate what grown M-E-N they’ve become by attempting to be more sly in their come-ons.

The depth of those come-ons is, it needs to be said, incredibly thick though. And their lack of taste knows no bounds; while NKOTB doesn’t go so far as to paraphrase Muddy Waters anywhere, they do lift “Chain Of Fools” for “Grown Man” (with a little help from Pussycat Dolls) and goes needlessly overboard with the sophomoric sex talk on “Dirty Dancing” and “Sexify My Love” to the point that those songs make a convincing case for fame retarding the maturation of pop stars.

Happily, from a sonic standpoint NKOTB sticks closer to Boyz II Men-ish R&B for the most part with tight, usually soulful R&B harmonies and these men wear that tenor better than the overtly horny moments here. When they get it all together (as on “Stare At You,” “2 In The Morning” and “Grown Man”) New Kids On The Block prove that life and a career is possible after pop mega-stardom, it’s just a matter of subtlety – as in, ‘You need to have some.’ As an experiment, The Block isn’t as painful or desperately vacuous as it could be, better musicians have made poorer artistic choices. However, with The Block now on the books, NKOTB are locked in again; in order to not become an even bigger group of heels, they have to press forward and actually attempt to complete the transition to grown-up music-making performers. Where once they were simply a coddled fad forgotten, in reappearing they’re going to have to start working for a living after The Block and they’ve got a long way to go.


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