Five years ago, New Kids On The Block valiantly fought against this catch-22 on The Block. They worked with the industry’s hottest producers — and a pre-Fame Lady Gaga — to create a bunch of slick pop songs that ultimately failed to connect with a wider audience. This time around, they pander to the faithful. That’s good news if you were hangin’ tough with the boys in the ’80s, but don’t expect 10 (out today, ) to convert a lot of new Blockheads.
While the album trades heavily on goodwill, there are some glimpses of the band’s old magic. Unfortunately, these bright spots are significantly outweighed by dated dance-pop and over-produced ballads. Much of the blame has to lie with the producers.
Since leaving Interscope, the band’s access to hit-makers like RedOne, Timbaland and Polow da Don (all of whom contributed songs to The Block) was cut off and they chose to record the album with Danish production house Deekay. Those guys are best known for working with English boybands like Blue and JLS, but, with all due respect, they represent something of a downgrade.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. One aspect that works brilliantly is the introduction of rock elements. Take the lead single “Remix (I Like The),” which turns out to an unexpected delight with its raspy vocals and corny-yet-utterly-amazing guitar riffs. The rock-tinged pop odyssey finds the band at their most adventurous and playful. It’s fresh and current, and, if radio plays along, a potential hit.
The boys also hit the nail on the head with nuclear-powered dance anthem “Crash,” which taps into the wave of European house music in the States currently exploding in the States. The chorus is undeniable and the production is spot on. It’s a big song that should perform well in international markets.
Another winner is “Now Or Never,” which is perhaps the most traditional-sounding New Kids On The Block anthem on 10. It’s a cute slice of urban-pop that bursts into a jangly guitar-driven chorus. It’s instantly hummable and radio ready.
As far as ballads go, the clear winner is “We Own Tonight.” It’s a vibrant synth ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on a One Direction album (this is a compliment). The rock chorus sits well with the electronic elements, while Jordan takes lead vocal duties over waves of “woahs”. Time hasn’t wearied the band’s ability to harmonize one iota.
The rest of the album varies between competent-yet-uninspiring to tired and generic. “Survive You” is a dreadful ballad that sounds like a reject from NKOTB’s 1990 album Step By Step (keep listening, though, for the surprisingly fun hidden track, “Let’s Go Out With A Bang”), while “Jealous (Blue)” and “Back To life” are instantly forgettable mid-tempo love songs that suffer from stuffy production. “The Whisper” is better, but fails to fire despite a great build up and some of the best vocals on the album. And the less said about the frankly embarrassing “Fighting Gravity” the better.
The man band themselves are conspicuously absent from the album’s songwriting credits. Joey’s name appears twice, Donnie’s once. Perhaps that’s why 10 is a strangely impersonal affair with no emotional core. The Block was a mess, but their hearts were in it. This feels like a rushed commercial decision because they needed an album to tour and thought these songs would do.
For hardcore fans, it’s enough. The rest of us will find a couple of tracks to enjoy.
The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: “Crash” is dance-pop perfection.
Best Listened To: On your way to the Package tour
Idolator Rating: 2.5/5
— Mike Wass