About 16 years have passed since
released their self-titled debut album, and 15 years since their follow-up
98° and Rising
became a multi-platinum juggernaut. A lot has happened since then. Mainly, the concept of a boy band has actually evolved into just that: a
band. When Nick, Justin, Jeff, and Drew first hit the scene, they were all in their twenties (Drew was probably the closest to genuine youthfulness at 21). It wasn’t unheard of, considering various members of
were flirting with 30 by their second album. Since then, boy bands have gotten younger (
‘s oldest member is 21 and they’re almost three albums deep), yet the content grows more risqué. Capitalizing on one of those two traits, 98 Degrees release
May 7), a pop-tastic album that is both age-appropriate for who they are and what they came to do.
2.0 opens with the handclaps and innuendo-laden lyrics of “Microphone.” The dancefied single spins a phallic metaphor on its, er, knees, where 98 Degrees’ temperature rises as ladies are instructed to grab the “microphone” and do some vocal runs with their best O-face. Perhaps it isn’t the easiest pill for old school 98 Degrees fans to swallow (we could go all day with this stuff), but the sentiment is clouded by the hip, playful production.
“Girls Night Out” follows, the potential offensiveness of the opener is but a faint memory. The booms and gyrating beat usher the layered vocals of the man band as they craft a ladies’ night club anthem. The party dims in time for “Lonely,” a drum-heavy, piano-infused symphony of solitude. Once the bells and whistles of their pop production have been stripped away, it’s clear that the quartet’s vocals are as crisp as ever. That’s impressive, considering their last album was 2000’s Revelation and it would be easy to lose their chops and shroud it with Auto-Tune. That’s not the case here.
The gang grabs a page from the Bible of
Justin Timberlake on “Can’t Get Enough,” which is begging for a Jay-Z cameo (your move, Hov), as things turn acoustic on “Impossible Things.” By “Hush, Hush” the party returns. Making adequate use of electro-keys and synths, this EDM track brings the sexy as they coo “it feels so good to be dangerous” in unison.
The first half of
2.0 is decent, but the second half is marginally better. “No Part of You” is carried by its epizootic hook, and what follows are a series of songs that are all arguable singles. From the ’90s stylized playfulness of “Agree on Goodbye” to the crashing 808s on “AYO,” 98 Degrees leave no pop stone unturned. The 11-track offering concludes with “Take The Long Way Home,” as their octaves shift to damn near whistle tones.
98 Degrees’ fifth studio album isn’t treading new territory; rather, it’s enhancing an existing formula. For a group that hasn’t seen monumental success as a unit in well over a decade, this was by far the smartest route to take. Proving their maturity as vocalists (and sexual adventurists) has grown exponentially,
98 Degrees are setting the stage for Chapter 2 in their career. Their 2.0, if you will.
Best Song That Wasn’t the Single: The you-oooohs on the hook to “No Part Of You” are enough to spin off into its own sequel.
Best Listened To: On loop for 10 hours, like the opening line of Lana Del Rey‘s “Cola.”
Idolator Score: 3.5/5
— Kathy Iandoli
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