ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: How do you transition a group that’s known as a retro act into something relevant to the present day? Whoever was in charge of the comeback album for OG boy band New Kids On The Block decided to drag Joe, Jordan, Jonathan, Danny, and Donnie into the present day by stuffing The Block with as many signifiers of the mid-oughts as possible: T-Pain levels of Autotune; cameos by the Pussycat Dolls and Akon; Timbaland beats; lyrical references to Grey’s Anatomy; libidinous songs about bottle service and homemade sex tapes. The end result, you may not be surprised to hear, is an album that sounds almost as awkwardly “of the now” as 1993′s attempt to drop the “Kids” from their name, Face The Music. With songs like “Sexify My Love,” which recalls both Flo Rida and the most generic radio R & B and “Full Service,” a New Kids/New Edition collab that should be !!-worthy but instead forces every vocalist on the track through a pseudo-patois filter, The Block is constantly on the verge of turning itself inside-out and becoming a retro piece of its own, although the age it’s recalling is one when Akon was all over the radio and Nicole Scherzinger had a chance at a solo career.
Sometimes, the Kids will dip into the memory banks of the ladies who, as screaming young things, filled malls in their honor: “I’m like Swayze,” one of the Kids sings on the also-Akon-inspired, Autotune-heavy “Dirty Dancin’.” Which should pull the heartstrings of many a 30something; after all, that movie taught a lot of middle school girls about eroticism (and illegal abortions) when it came out. But I can’t wonder how many of the younger kids listening to this album are wondering, “oh, you mean like Cisco Adler’s bestie?”