Review: “Hangin’ Tough” by New Kids On The Block (CD, 1988)

Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate uncertain, is the 1988 second album Hangin’ Tough by American boy band New Kids On The Block. Is this album The Right Stuff, or is it a Tough listen? Read on…

New Kids On The Block - Hangin' Tough (1988) album cover
New Kids On The Block – Hangin’ Tough (1988) album

The album opens with the thumping bass drum machine of hit second single You Got It (The Right Stuff). The vocals from Jordan Knight are straight into the verse, with Donny Wahlberg giving the deeper notes. These stand bright against the harder beats, and they help make them stand out even more. The ‘oh oh ooh-oh oh‘ vocal harmonies in the chorus really make this track stand out, and it certainly did so in the charts when the track took them to #1 of the UK’s singles chart.

Next it’s lead single Please Don’t Go Girl, and this time we’re in ballad zone. The vocals here are a contrast, with the very young Joey McIntyre taking the higher notes. His vocals alongside Jordan Knight gives the song an almost female/male duet, as the backing track gives us a breathy loved-up ballad sound that reminds me very much of Have You Seen Her? by the Chi-Lites (and would be released by MC Hammer in 1990). The track failed to chart in the UK.

The tinkling of chimebars and a slow hi-hat tap leads us into another ballad, this time penultimate single I’ll Be Loving You (Forever). The high-pitched vocals are back again, with Jordan telling how he’s loving YOU. It’s a simple song, with light percussion, a plodding bass, and a few synth pads lurking in the background, heading towards the key change towards the end where some of the other group members join in on the vocal harmonies. The track gave the group another hit, reaching #5 in the UK during the Spring of 1990, but to be honest it’s a bit nauseating. I guess I’m just still not a teenage girl.

A roaring electric guitar bursts in quite unexpectedly, as Cover Girl arrives. This was the album’s final single to chart in the UK (where it reached #4). This time Donny takes the lead vocal, and he befits the heavier tracks (and always seems to be the most rebellious of the group), but even he is having to reach up in the vocal range. The key change towards the end feels awkward for Donny, and it’s not until the song is coming to the end that you get a glimpse of a potential rasping rock vocal… and then it fades away.

I Need You is next, and we’re back into mid-tempo ballad, with synth, plodding bass drum, and finger clicks. Donny is back on the microphone again, and he sounds much more suited and more confident with this song. His vocals work pretty well here, and even though that electric guitar returns, it’s not until the end that the two collide, as he whispers sweet nothings into the mic.

Titular track Hangin’ Tough is next, and this track is closer to You Got It (The Right Stuff), and gives Donny another lead. It’s a more macho track, with harder drums, descending bass sequences and almost barked ‘we’re rough!’ fighting gang lyrics. Again, it’s a simple track, with the bass synth doing most of the hard labour. Musically it reminds me of Let’s Go All The Way by Sly Fox, and a bit of hip hop. It works pretty well, but surprisingly enough of a song to be such a hit single – it reached #1 in the UK!

Joey takes the mic again for I Remember When, another ballad. He puts in a great performance, but sat here on this album alongside the rest of the group, it just doesn’t sit well – he’s no Michael amongst the Jackson 5. This could easily be a gawky 70’s one hit wonder child hit.

It’s a return to form in What’cha Gonna Do (About It), and this sees most of the group take vocal duties. The result is a more mature upbeat sound, that musically reminds me a little bit of Paula Abdul’s Opposite’s Attract. The hard drum machine beats are sharp, and punctuated with lots of synth stabs and plenty of space. The vocal harmonies work really well here, and even the arrival of Joey’s pre-pubescent-like vocals fit okay here in their limited use. This probably should have been a UK single instead of the ballads.

The style continues for My Favourite Girl, which sees Donny and Jordan take their first and only co-writing credits here alongside the album’s writer and producer Maurice Starr. The result is another upbeat pop song, that feels like it sits with some of the stronger tracks here. Danny Wood takes on some engineering duties for this track, and maybe their combined influence helped to push this song that bit further. This also could have been a UK single.

The album closes with Hold On, which once again takes the harder beats and electric guitar. This continues the energy and rebellious sound that the group fare better in. Whilst the electric guitar really helps to give it weight, and the chorus becomes quite catchy despite its simplicity, the track kind of loses a direction after the mid point and then just becomes repetitive before the inevitable fade out.

New Kids On The Block’s lead single ‘Please Don’t Go Girl’ from 1988.

Verdict

Over all, this album is a really mixed bag.

When NKOTB properly arrived in the UK, they did so by scoring a #1 with You Got It (The Right Stuff), under the guise of rebellious American lads, but this album throws them into ballads just too many times to stick with. This does not age well.

The more interesting tracks include You Got It…, but also My Favourite Girl, and What’cha Gonna Do (About It), and all three of those could have helped them to find success faster.

The low points here are sadly the higher-pitched vocal tracks using Joey as a lead, and the 100% loved-up but paint-by-numbers-American-ballad tracks. I Remember When being the worst, but closely followed by Please Don’t Go Girl and I’ll Be Loving You (Forever).

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1988 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #2, certified 2x Platinum by the BPI.
  • POP RESCUE COST: 53p from a discogs.com seller.

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