PROOF OF PURCHASE: Sometimes a “music journalist” has to put his body on the line and buy an NKOTB CD.
Last week, I offered my fragile body up for a heinous act of self-abuse in the name of science: if a certain number of readers dared me, I’d buy the New Kids on the Block comeback album in a retail store with my own money, listen to every goddamn second of it, and write an enthusiastic review worthy of a PR clipping. Within hours of the column’s release, my inbox was flooded with pages and pages of dares (several of them double-dog dares).
Roughly 90 percent of them came, to my surprise, from female NKOTB fans who were, by some stunning miscalculation, convinced that I’d love the album if I gave it half a chance:
I dare you to do like you said with the NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCKS cd, THE BLOCK. . . cause you will find out one thing . . . IT IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks bunches and remember hang tough!
A BLOCKHEAD FOR 20 years and proud of it!!!!!!
Some “Blockheads” scoffed at my dare, accusing me of underestimating the power of their fandom. Au contraire, ladies: if anything, I overestimated the rabid NKOTB fan base (by charitably assuming it didn’t exist). But I’m a man of my word: I drove to the local big-box store and bought The Block, straight-faced, from an actual human clerk. I regret to report that there were no cute female employees present; I promised last week that I’d talk the album up a little if I saw one, but no such luck (thank God).
So, on to the glowing, conspicuously quotable review:
THE BLOCK: From New Kids to elder statesmen
It’s been an excruciating wait since 1994’s Face the Music, but the New Kids are finally back on the Block. The platinum-selling boy-banders may have aged a decade or two since their fresh-faced glory days, and some have gone on to raise families and pursue useful vocations. But with The Block (Interscope), their completely unexpected comeback album, they’ve made a great leap backward into the spotlight.
The New Kids’ voices have held up remarkably well over the years. They’re sounding just about as good as ever, with frequent boosts from a highly saturated Auto-Tune that gives the tracks the kind of warbly, Akonesque pitch-perfection that’s pushed popular music to such technical excellence in recent years. With synthed-out tracks from the likes of Polow da Don and Timbaland, the set’s sleek production is every bit as hip and ground-breaking as the iconic beats of “Hangin’ Tough” and “The Right Stuff” sound today.
“Click Click Click” starts things off with a bang, proving that these “Kids” are all grown up. The lyrics tell of a romantic boudoir photo shoot — the lads’ intellects may have retained all the wit and humor of their 13-year-old selves, but their bodies have matured into well-oiled machines of sensual curiosity. Donnie throws some extra heat on the already spicy proceedings with a rap verse reminiscent of such classic crossovers as Blondie’s “Rapture” and Madonna’s “American Life.” No doubt about it: he possesses every bit as much rhyming talent as his younger brother, Academy Award nominee “Marky” Mark Wahlberg.
To a casual fan like me, it can be difficult to tell which New Kid is singing at any given moment, but I will say this: each and every member of the band is every bit as distinct and memorable as the guy who preceded him, and the guy who follows. And with high-profile guest stars like the equally distinctive Pussycat Dolls, you’ll never spend too much time worrying about who’s who.
“Single,” the album’s second single, deftly plays on the dual meaning of the word “single,” using it to mean “romantically unattached” and to refer to a cut of recorded music released in a promotional capacity. If that sounds a little too cerebral for you, don’t worry — this is the only feat of poststructuralist intellectualism the grown-up New Kids attempt on The Block. And with a little help from Ne-Yo, they keep the track bouncing along without getting bogged down in high-minded witticisms.
Besides, the tone of The Block is far steamier than you might expect from a bunch of guys synonymous with lunchbox portraiture. “Sexify My Love,” “Dirty Dancing,” and “Lights, Camera, Action” continue right where Color Me Badd left off, and the album as a whole demonstrates a huge leap in maturity (in the “TV-MA” sense). Better put the kids to bed, because The Block may contain suggestive language, implied adult themes. and mild sensuality!
So, the bottom line: is The Block buyable? Yes, in the most literal sense! In my own estimation, and I’m sure every critic at this paper would agree, The Block is one of the albums of 2008, and no list of the year’s releases would be complete without it.
The Block is available now from retailers nationwide. Or you could just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and make a reasonable offer.