Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate uncertain, is 2008’s fifth album The Block by American boy (now man) band New Kids On The Block. Will this album keep you listening until 2 In The Morning, or will you need to Block it? Read on…
This 14 track album opens with a gentle beat, soft synths, and handclap of Click Click Click, as NKOTB whisper all sexy in the background. This is a terrifically gentle and warm song, and it works really well with the guys getting plenty of moments to shine in the vocals. Akon is tucked away here on co-writer and co-producer credits, and he’ll turn up vocally later. It’s a really nice start to what had been a long absence.
Then it’s Single, which itself was the album’s second single by the group and Ne-Yo. Once again, NKOTB’s vocal harmonies sit perfectly together, giving a warm wave of vocals that sit well against Ne-Yo’s slightly sharper key. At times, I can hear a familiar vocal melody from Coldplay in the verse, but this steps aside with oodles of finger clicks and bass. It’s another really nice warm song, but not warm enough for the UK, who rewarded it with a peak at #81.
That leads on to Bad Girl Now which features Lady Gaga, and we’re plunged into acidy synth stabs that sound familiar from the 2009 Lady Gaga sounds. Her sultry and playful vocals are familiar and a great contrast to theirs. Gaga sounds like she’s giving it her all in this song, and the lads get a nice range of vocals to perform although all of them sound like they’re being thickly squished by auto-tune. It all hangs together well though, with the suggestive chorus giving us a nice catchy hook. We even get some Rihanna-esque ‘eh eh eh‘ moments too.
Lead single Summertime follows that, dropping us in with a piano before the beats and an almost creepy fun-fair synth plays. The track takes a more upbeat sound away from the piano intro. It’s quite a nice little song, but the three previous song are stronger and perhaps catchier. There’s a nice pseudo-barbershop quintet moment before the track resumes to the end. The track stalled at #34 in the UK chart.
Next up is 2 In The Morning, which is a nice little plodder, again relying on the heavy beats and handclaps with a scattering of heartfelt, sadly the autotune is at maximum strength here again, which feels a bit unnecessary when it’s clear that at least some of NKOTB can sing very well – the result is a song that sounds like Owl City on a day even he can’t be bothered to sing. Weirdly this autotuned mess became the fourth single, but it didn’t bother the UK charts.
Grown Man follows that, and this time NKOTB have collaborated with The Pussycat Dolls and Teddy Riley (what a packed studio!). From the start, this sounds like a cover of some old forgotten song, thanks to a load of record scratches, some repeated little guitar riffs and a swaggering bass. The Pussycat Dolls are more cat than doll in this track, but it’s fair to say that this sounds like it’s a song that they quietly pinched from the back of Justin Timberlake’s van from a box labelled ‘nearly sexy back’.
Then we’re on to Dirty Dancing, which opens with a nice little tinkly piano which continues throughout. Another heavy beat, some random gang shouting opens the song, before stripping back to the piano and vocals. Yes, the track does name-check the late Patrick Swayze, and the result is another massively over-auto-tuned track, but it is at least quite catchy. The track became the album’s third single, but it didn’t chart in the UK.
Following that is Sexify My Love. Thankfully it doesn’t make any attempt to sound like Madonna’s Justify My Love, but instead it sounds a like a bit more of a teenager’s lyrics, over some more heavy beats. The synth pads are really nice though, and the little bursts of ‘brass’ really help to add interest as the song is washed in soft vocal harmonies.
Twisted is next, a song about tattoos and ‘screws’. The synths are stabby, the vocals distorted, the drums loud, and the consistency a bit watery. I’m not sure if they were going for robotic here, but it definitely feels like a bit of a filler song.
That leads on to Full Service featuring New Edition, and these legendary fellas (although minus Bobby Brown on this occasion) are ushered in with some big fat beats that boom, auto-tune, and big synths. I’m reminded of Nelly Furtado, OneRepublic, Timbaland and the others of that sound and era, but the most notable part here is just how much the auto-tune is in play. If you ask New Edition to record with you, it’s hard to imagine that conversation with them when they realised that their guest voices would then be altered. It feels like a crime.
Lights, Camera, Action is next and it sounds like whichever NKOTB member is speaking to the lady at the start, is setting up for an OnlyFans session. What we do get here, as the boys are panting about lights and cameras, is a really nice fun little synth that sort of pops around. By now though, the sexy booming beats format are beginning to wear thin.
Then we’re on to Put It On My Tab which features Akon, who also falls victim of the auto-tune as he orders a piña colada for ‘baby girl’. Heavy bass drums and handclaps keep the momentum and focus, as some piano and synth pads play in the near distance. Occasionally some ‘brass’ sounds drop in as the track wanders along.
Stare At You is next and we’re treated to more piano, and heartfelt vocals are delivered without the curse of auto-tune. This sounds more like the group’s original run of songs that broke whole stadiums’ worth of teenage hearts, and would have sat at #1 for weeks. Instead, it’s consigned here to the album’s closing song (if you ignore the ‘bonus’ track). It’s a nice return to strength.
The album closes with a bonus track titled Close To You, which opens with what sounds like Donnie Wharlberg talking to his kids, before it switches to some more piano. Laden with vocal harmonies, a guitar drops in with finger clicks. This sounds like another really nice song, and one in which they’re able to sing without the over-production of auto-tune. About halfway, the song builds to drop in a bass drum and snare, as the song earns itself a bit more energy, and taking a James Morrison turn. This is not a bad thing – resulting in a nice fully-rounded track.
Over all, this album is trying to be fresh, but walks the line between being an NKOTB album and a generic 2008 album.
A 14 year absence, perhaps determining the 14 tracks, is what you get here, and there are plenty of familiar sounds from Jordan, Donnie, and Joey’s vocals, that will have you back to those 1980’s exciting chart-topping times, but then the over-reach steps in.
There are some really great songs here – and the album starts off well with Click Click Click, Single, and Big Girl Now giving us at first a nice warm and gentle easing back in, and an upbeat song with a familiar co-star. The album also closes well too – leaning us towards James Morrison and Take That territory with the more piano/acoustic/vocal approach in Stare At You and Close To You.
The problem is the middle part, which languishes in A style. Here, the auto-tune oversteps the mark and really takes everyone to town. Its overuse is almost comical at times, and its butchering of New Edition is simply a crime against music. The majority of the middle of this album are 3-star tracks, with the exception of Twisted, which is a 2-er, and after a lot of songs consisting of loud beats, with clicks or claps, and a plethora of auto-tuned voices, you realise that it’s just a big fat middle of sameness.
If the album had been cut back to 10 or 11 tracks, you wouldn’t miss anything. I believe that a deluxe edition provided 17 songs in total, so please take a moment in silence to remember those who purchased that. A warm welcome back, but more is less with this album.
- POP RESCUE 2022 ALBUM RATING: 3 / 5
- 2008 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #16
- POP RESCUE COST: 49p from a Discogs.com seller.