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New Kids Need New

New Kids Need New


The New Kids on the Block reunion album is a weird mishmash that doesn't appeal to teens and doesn't play to nostalgia. What's the point?

Despite my wishing, I understand that New Kids on the Block, the Maurice Starr-orchestrated boy band of Tiger Beatnik fixation in the late '80s and early '90s, never intended to win a homo following. Of course, that didn't stop any especially coordinated preteen boys from craving the group with innocently perverted fervor. It never does.

And yet, Chairman Starr, I thee implore: If Jordan, Donnie, Jon, Danny, and Joe set out to snag only straight girl fanatics, why did you tease the fey lads with such classic homo bait? Rambunctious, cute boys aside, you pitched some real poison darts -- like that glee clubber falsetto in "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)." And Jordan Knight's clinically bodacious pompadour. And the "Step by Step" video's sweaty muscle-crunching yanked right out of Herb Ritts's photo fantasia. But mostly, Mauri, you taunted us with our favorite thing of all: emotions. "Please Don't Go, Girl"? That was Sophie's Choice: Junior Edition for many of us. The gays never did find out where to deposit their unrequited urges; the fan clubs didn't seem sympathetic.

Lucky us, we can just recollect our withered crushes, since the New Kids have surprised us all with a full-fledged reunion. Their new album, The Block, hit stores September 2. Finally, straights and gays young and old can unite over NKOTB, because this album really isn't for any of us.

Fourteen years after their last album, New Kids on the Block sound like partially confident college juniors. What other age bracket would concern itself with the platter of song subjects here, ranging from declarations of adulthood ("Big Girl Now" and "Grown Man") to homemade porn recording ("Click Click Click" and "Lights, Camera, Action")? Like Justin Timberlake's Justified, these songs intend to graduate child stars into throbbing crooners and viable bedroom bandits. But their earnest efforts shrivel in the lyrics, which are sometimes just lame ("Gotta know If you're mad at me / Before Grey's Anatomy" moans "2 in the Morning," while "Dirty Dancing" dares to rhyme "crazy" with "Swayze") and sometimes just gross: "Tell me where to kiss it," goes "Twisted"; "I do the stunts on my own," brags "Lights, Camera, Action." Remember, that one's about sex tapes. Yep.

The first single, "Summertime," rides on a catchable wave of nostalgia and seeming harmlessness. The boys appropriate hip-hop phrasing ("The feeling was hot / Kissing on you while the ocean rocked") to dubious avail, and they don't quite sound like they're being themselves, but the song coolly embraces their relatively ancient history. They needed more songs like this to steer them away from sounding far too much like JT (on "Single" with Ne-Yo, featuring harmonies unapologetically shanghaied from recent Timberlake tracks) and too self-serious (the dated piano ballad "Stare at You").

For all of NKOTB's attempts to own their sexual identity, The Block feels commandeered by the band's production team, which aggressively shines each track into waxy cohesion. Even as the album lifts slow-jam beats and flourishes from recent R&B fare, the album sounds mysteriously retro -- like leftover tracks from Brian McKnight or Craig David. The barrage of album guest stars, ranging from the Pussycat Dolls to Akon, scarcely digs these tracks out of their void. Current gay diva du jour Lady Gaga comes closest to adding real spice on "Big Girl Now," which contains the catchiest cadence on the album, even if the lyrics slime up the groove.

Considering the group's intention to sound young and sexy, it's hard to understand who this album is intended for. Original NKOTB fans? That can't be; they're too old for crooning poon talk. Perhaps the fresh guest stars' presence says more about this album's key demographic, but even so, the iPod generation recognizes NKOTB as musical forefathers, not contemporaries to the current crop of stars. Is anyone excited about receiving "Full Service"? Or getting their love "sexified" (on "Sexify My Love")? Why do these song titles and lyrics sound so accidentally immature?

The deluxe edition of The Block actually boasts a few very good, tasteful tracks. "Officially Over" mines Nick Lachey territory but remains more memorable (and likable) than much of the album, and "One Song" is serviceably danceable. Otherwise, The Block boorishly straddles the line between sincere creepiness and unintentional self-parody, when all it really wants to do is straddle your sorority friends. This time, the gays should feel privileged in being left out.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Louis Virtel