September 11, 2008

New Grandpas on the Block

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Let’s get one thing straight: NKOTB is one elder boy band. With every member pushing the age of forty, these “Kids” are hardly new. Scoring their first hit single more than two decades ago, the boys have been dormant as a group since the mid-90s. Now grown up, they have re-emerged on the pop music scene. Lead single “Summertime” was a pleasant enough bit of nostalgia that radio lukewarmly received it, sending the song into the top 40. However, the group has not scored a top 10 single in 18 years, and the New Kids feel the pressure of winning back their chart success. These all too obvious realities make their 2008 reunion release The Block a squirm-inducing affair, as the group jarryingly tries to recapture its youth and desperately attempts to fit in with current trends.
The biggest flaw with The Block is the same problem that plagued the NKOTB’s last album — their ill-fated 1994 urban crossover Face the Music. The boy band’s members are no longer adolescents but they don’t know how to act like adults. On The Block, NKOTB equates maturity with sex, sex and more sex — a theme that pervades essentially every track on the record. On the uncomfortable tracks “Click, Click, Click” and “Lights, Camera, Action,” the New Kids offer homage to homemade pornography. The not-so-subtle come-ons “Put it on My Tab” and “Full Service” try to convince the ladies that they’re “the kind of cats that want to hit it tonight,” and charmingly equate getting laid with pumping gas.
Even when the songs are hook-filled (“Dirty Dancing”) and sonically appealing (“Sexify My Love”), the efforts are marred by crusty ’80s references (Patrick Swayze, anyone?) and dated ’90s lingo (girls looking so fly?). The ushering in of trendy guest stars doesn’t help the New Kids’ cause either. In spite of titles like “Grown Man” and “Big Girl Now” — tracks that attempt to both reconcile their age and that of their female fan-base — appearances by the Pussycat Dolls and Lady Gaga just make the group sound more out of step with modern music. The same applies to the New Kids’ latest single “Single,” (clever title, right?) a song that co-stars the red-hot Ne-Yo but features a cold, soulless beat that is more suited for Usher.
In the end, this disjointedness — and the accompanying embarrassing sexual innuendo — is exactly why The Block disappoints: the album is club-oriented pop featuring a sound that is sexy and modern but a group that is not. Try as they to might to convince you that they are smooth, mature lover boys willing to “try every position we can dream of,” these New Kids are really just dirty old men.