New Kids on the Block

10

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New Kids on the Block succeeded commercially with their 2008 comeback The Block, selling a respectable number of albums but, more importantly, establishing themselves as a concert attraction. It may have served its purpose as a career move but as a record, The Block was a little confused, a rather desperate and often vulgar attempt to position NKOTB as modern R&B hitmakers. That move didn't really work -- "Summertime" barely scraped the U.S. Top 10 (although it did considerably better in Canada, reaching that Top 10) -- so the group decided to take a different tactic on their next album, 2013's 10 (who knows why it's called 10? It's neither their 10th album nor their 10th anniversary). They've gone full-tilt into middle-aged maturity, acting their years with considerable assistance from a bevy of European pop producers, including the team behind Sugababes' hits and Lemar Obika. There is some American flavor here, arriving via Justin Timberlake collaborator James Fauntleroy and regular mainstream pop songsmith Jess Cates, but this streak is subsumed by the heavy gloss of icy synthesizers, cluttered rhythms, and cool, reserved melodies. All in all, even if it's a sound that hardly guarantees hits -- at best, it sounds a few years behind the times; most of the time, it's commercial pop with no conceivable mainstream audience -- it's a sound that suits the middle-aged New Kids well, letting them seem relatively stylish and respectable. Plus, the modest ambitions mean that this is often pleasing to the ears: they're never trying hard for a hit (they're also not writing; Joey McIntyre has two song credits, Donnie Wahlberg has one, and that's it) and the music was constructed to be nothing more than cleanly produced, tuneful, middle-of-the-road pop. This is merely designed to please the diehards…if anybody else happens to like it or if it stumbles into a hit, that's merely a bonus.

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