New Kids on the Block

The Block

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The problem facing New Kids on the Block on their 2008 reunion The Block is the same one they had on their last album, 1994's Face the Music: the quintet are no longer kids and don't quite know how to be adults. That dilemma drove them apart back in 1994, as the group stumbled away from their clumsy stab at hip-hop on Face the Music, remembered chiefly for embarrassments like "Dirty Dawg," where the boys tried to be gangsta, as that was the style of the time. Fourteen years later, NKOTB are none the wiser, repeating the exact same mistakes as they did last time around as they restyle themselves to fit into current trends, piling on guest artists by the dozens with the hope that it will get them all the way back into the Top 40. Coming off the heels of the astounding multi-platinum success of Hangin' Tough and Step by Step, such desperate attempts to hang onto stardom made sense in 1994 but now that all the members save Joey McIntyre are pushing 40, it's awkward to hear the group abandon sprightly bubblegum for youthful rhythm-driven club music but, more than that, it's a bit nauseating to hear them sing about nothing but sexifying their love. At their peak, NKOTB only sang about puppy love -- how could they not, as their fans were almost entirely preteens too young to hear sticky songs of seduction, the kind that comprise the entirety of The Block. Two of these are pitched directly at those older fans -- "Big Girl Now," where the Kids sing to Lady GaGa about what they can finally do now that they're all growed up, and "Grown Man," where they sing pretty much the same thing with the Pussycat Dolls. This isn't the only time the smut comes in pairs -- "Click Click Click" and "Lights, Camera, Action" both enthusiastically celebrate homegrown pornography -- nor is it the only time that NKOTB decide to trample upon the nostalgia that's their very reason for reuniting, as they turn an homage to "Dirty Dancing" into a bump and grind that is far, far from the innocence of the Patrick Swayze original, or the New Kids music, for that matter. Draped in washes of chilly analog synths straight out of Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, Autotune inspired by Akon (who appears on the charming barroom pickup anthem "Put It on My Tab"), chanting choruses, and brittle, skittish rhythms and containing no hook in earshot, The Block sounds nothing like the New Kids, nor does it feel like them, either: this is grim, joyless mechanical music, only made uglier by the group's sunny past, as it plays like those cheerful kids grew up to be the dirtiest of old men. [The CD was also released with bonus tracks.]

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