Review Summary: If New Kids On The Block’s reunion isn’t fueled by nostalgia, who exactly are they trying to appeal to?
Remember when the Backstreet Boys released Never Gone
and hacks fell over themselves to be the 318th person to dub them “the Backstreet Men”? Three years on, the Boys’ bubblegum forebears New Kids On The Block have belatedly decided to follow suit and grow up. The Block
, the New Kids’ first album in fourteen years, is positively packed with references, both explicit and implicit, to their newfound maturity: from titles like ‘Grown Men’ to the wafer-thin sexual metaphors of ‘Dirty Dancing’ and ‘Sexify My Love,’ the latter of which makes Akon (who offers an obligatory guest spot later on the disc) look like the shrewdest of worldplay merchants by comparison. Which all begs the question: if the New Kids On The Block’s reunion isn’t fuelled by the nostalgia of their now 30+ fanbase, who exactly are they trying to appeal to?
Much as they attempted to do last time round, with 1994’s old-school rap-infused Face The Music
(Youtube ‘Dirty Dawg’ for a piece of that foul-smelling pie), the New Kids are attempting to jump on the already-fading dancefloor r&b bandwagon, roping in the likes of Akon, Ne-Yo and Timbaland to add credibility to their latest venture. In this regard, The Block
has more in common with Duran Duran’s clueless Timbaland/Timberlake-endorsed comeback Red Carpet Massacre
than either of the Backstreet Boys’ recent efforts. Quite simply, The Block
reeks of an attempt by an established act to capture a music style they have little or no understanding of. Dire genre experiments by the likes of David Bowie, Madonna and, yes, Duran Duran are proof enough that even the paths of the most innovative pop musicians are paved with epic miscalculations, but who on earth would place New Kids On The Block in that category?
picks up where Face The Music
left off, figuratively and literally, with the cumbersome handclap beat that leads into ‘Click Click Click,’ a wishy-washy synth-driven number that’s either about taking “mental shots” of a beautiful woman, or taking actual camera shots of a beautiful woman, or, like, cumming on her chest or something. In fact, the only thing (aside from my imagination) that rescues the track from complete monotony is Donnie Wahlberg’s brief rap, which manages to inject the final minute or so with some degree of urgency. Lead single ‘Summertime’ self-consciously harks back to the band’s late ’80s heyday, using backwards string samples to create a bright, sunshine vibe, while Joey McIntyre moronically hollers “Jones Beach, 1988!” in the background. The arrangement (self-produced) is slightly awkward, paying ill-advised deference to Timbaland’s heavy club synth signature, but the upbeat, feelgood melody more than makes up for that. Take note: it’s the one time The New Kids truly sound comfortable on The Block
Other high-points on the album include Ne-Yo’s star turn on second single ‘Single’ (during which producer Polow De Don replicates his own “If you ain’t got no money, take your broke ass
home” catcall from Fergie’s ‘Glamorous’) and Akon’s predictably sleazy take on ‘Put It On My Tab’- in fact, it’s easy to forget that the New Kids even appear on the latter, such is the Senegalese’s totalitarian presence and flagrant abuse of all vocoder- and taste-related laws. However three decent singles does not the memorable album make, and while Akon can get away with saying whatever stupid sh
it pops into his head (“hey Mr. Bartender, please make me a pina colada- hold the alcohol please!”
), when the New Kids On The Block ask Lady G to “drop it to the floor, let’s get raw,”
the correct response is always “Ew.” Let’s call it The R. Kelly Factor.
Like Red Carpet Massacre
, The Block
is proof that it requires more than the best producers and songwriters to make good pop music: it stands to reason that when creepy middle-aged men try to make smooth sex music, they inevitably wind up making creepy sex music. And if there were ever three words that best describe The Block
, they’d be “creepy sex music.”