CD Review of Greatest Hits by New Kids on the Block
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New Kids on the Block:
Greatest Hits

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD


n the surface, New Kids on the Block were simply boy-band mastermind Maurice Starr's talentless white version of New Edition, the marginally talented bubblegum pop outfit that launched the careers of Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill, and the trio that later went on to success as Bell Biv Devoe, as well as their producers, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis of the Time. But when one examines the band's output more closely -- with the added benefit of two decades' worth of introspective reflection -- New Kids turn out to be even less significant than that.

Both New Kids and New Edition hailed from Boston, and both groups sang vapid songs that -- had there been something other than cardboard cutouts of actual talented musicians in either group -- could have had the pop staying power of the Jackson 5's early hits, such as "ABC," "I'll Be There," and "I Want You Back," which still sound beautifully superb and energized still today, on the 10,000th listen. But no, New Kids delivered such forgettable hits as "Step By Step," "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)," and "Hangin’ Tough." The group's cheesy fake hip-hop and soul was enough to drive many a college student away from pop radio for good, although this particular critic, ears maimed by the New Kids, stayed in the ring for one more round until Boyz II Men delivered the knockout blow.

Thanks to Legacy's dusting off the New Kids archives in time for a reunion tour, 2008 brings these songs briefly out of the pop dumpster and gives us a fresh opportunity to give them a fair shake. For the most part, the label propaganda and blog coverage of the band this time around seem pretty fair, with a little wink-and-nod rewriting of history, as in: no one's claiming they were anything more than fodder for a marketing machine that created 140 New Kids products and a television cartoon series, and no one's calling Jordan Knight some sort of pioneer of bad falsetto singing, even though one might claim he was. Of course, that would start a turf war with the DeBarge and Shalamar fan clubs.

New Kids on the Block

There's one bone to pick with the New Kids' official history, however: The label claims the group's five original members are back together for a reunion, which is only sort of true. They seem to gloss over the fact that now-famous actor Mark Wahlberg originally was in the band with bro Donnie. Of course, he bailed before the first record to launch his Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch hip-hop group because even he as an early teen thought that New Kids' tuneage sucked. That turned out to be a good call, because he got out soon enough to be the only one to have a post-Kids career of note.

Listening to these tracks anew prompts me to ask the same question the immortal Clara Peller often repeated in Wendy's commercials: Where's the beef? In a word, nowhere. And that's the issue: Here and there, there's a nice little touch, like the Beatlesque, Britpoppy "Tonight," in which the Kids rise to the level of a third-rate Oasis. Or even "The Right Stuff," the megahit single that's actually a pretty solid example of the Minneapolis funk of Prince and the Time (which some bloggers argue isn't a coincidence, saying New Kids and Starr straight up ripped off a Time groove for that song).

For the most part, this platter reminds us of a dark time for music, with "Hangin' Tough" and its claims of New Kids toughness emitting the most putrid fake-pop stench of them all. It's clear, with 20-20 hindsight, that New Kids was only a marketing scheme, one which sucked up hundreds of millions of dollars that could have been better spent on developing worthwhile, innovative artists. The only good thing you can say about New Kids, really, is that the band hastened the rise of Seattle grunge and indie rock, prompting more and more music fans to comb the corners of their local mom-and-pop record stores for rock, folk, jazz, blues -- anything but this New Kids crap. Now that they're back, you can expect nothing more than a bunch of empty stadiums – because really, who in their right mind would pay good money to hear a bunch of 40-year-olds sing elementary-school ballads? The same folks that would spend $100 a seat for Miley Cyrus? $200 for the Stones? $300 for Sting? Er, you got me there. Pardon me while I go slit my wrists.

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