CD Review of The Block by New Kids on the Block
Recommended if you like
New Edition, Bros, Akon
Label
Interscope
New Kids on the Block:
The Block

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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I
f, earlier this year, you read the news of the New Kids on the Block’s impending reunion and wondered what the non-financial reasons for such a decision could possibly be, don’t feel bad: The New Kids themselves don’t seem to have an answer either. The full-length recorded product of that reunion, The Block, is an utterly anonymous mishmash of flavor-of-the-month writers, producers, special guests, and production tricks, all aimed squarely at the 13-24 demographic – precisely none of whom were either alive or old enough to care about the New Kids the first time around.

It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but from Interscope’s point of view, it makes sense; after all, when the New Kids dropped their comeback single, “Summertime,” back in the spring, it didn’t attract the group’s millions of formerly screaming teenage fans back into the fold. Aside from a smattering of tongue-in-cheek “OMG it’s NKOTB” blog posts and news items, the song was far from the summer smash it was poised to be – and so its breezy 21st-century update on the old New Kids sound is mostly abandoned here, in favor of buzzy synths, clunky beats, and a whole lot of moaning about grown-up sex.

It’s hard to begrudge the group the last item on that list – it must be a royal pain in the ass to be a hair’s breadth away from your 40s and still saddled with the cutesy, wildly inappropriate name you were handed by your manager more than two decades ago – but that doesn’t make The Block any easier to listen to. For starters – and it’s hard to believe that this is actually something to complain about, but here it is – the New Kids may as well not even be on the album; they’re so walled in by their production that their presence barely registers. (It bears mentioning that this can’t be solely blamed on any inherent New Kids suckiness; all of the album’s special guests – especially New Edition – are pretty much trampled in the mix.)

New Kids on the Block

Of course, we aren’t exactly living in a singer’s era – a point driven home with thudding, obnoxious regularity here, thanks to the producers’ frequent overuse of harsh Auto-Tuning on the group’s vocals. Old New Kids records might have sucked, but they at least relied on singing and harmony – even as a facsimile of a facsimile, they couldn’t help but appropriate some of the charm of the classic vocal groups they were emulating. A New Kids reunion album that tried to take that sound and bring it to a new audience probably would have been corny – but still, it seems safe to say, quite preferable to The Block.

Even given all this, if the group had been handed anything as unstoppably catchy as any of its earlier brain-dead hits, the album might still be worth a listen. Alas, The Block is instead weighted down with groaners like “Grown Man,” “Sexify My Love,” and the album’s twin odes to sex on camera, “Click Click” and “Lights, Camera, Action.” “Summertime” is still a minor-league winner, and the Swayze-referencing “Dirty Dancing” is worth a chuckle, but by and large, these songs will only make you feel nostalgic for “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” and “Step by Step” – whether or not you liked them the first time around. Which is a pretty neat trick, when you think about it, but still one that probably could have been pulled off with a good old-fashioned, hits-flogging reunion tour. NKOTB would do well to follow that model from here on out, and leave the club anthems to the real kids.

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