New Kids on the Block
New Kids on the Block
April 1, 1986
Columbia Records/ SME
1. Stop It Girl // 2. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) // 3. Popsicle // 4. Angel // 5. Be My Girl // 6. New Kid on the Block // 7. Are You Down // 8. I Wanna Be Loved By You // 9. Don’t Give Up On Me // 10. Treat Me Right
So it’s 1986 and New Edition was a big thing with several platinum albums under their collective belt. Bobby got the hell out of dodge, but his solo debut album was dropping soon enough, and his career was definitely going places from there, not all of them good but the man did reach the highest
highs heights as well as the lowest lows of anyone in the group. The other four members dropped their first and last album as a quartet, a collection of standards that had been performed to death several times over already before any NE member had even learnt to talk, that while not being very exciting at least proved that they were still a thing. And what’s more, soon they would be joined by Johnny Gill whose dark chocolate vocals would give them soul creditials previously unattainable. So yeah Ronnie, Ricky, Ralph, Mike and Bobby (and Johnny) had all come far on the road to succes that they started walking in 1983 with their group debut Candy Girl.
And Maurice Starr, business savvy teen pop svengali was understandably pissed off about all this, because he had discovered the boys, produced their debut album and then just when the money started coming in they left him out to rot by signing to MCA records and not employing him as their producer.
Starr plotted his revenge, not only on NE but also on the entire world (*twirls moustache and laughs maniacally*) and immediately assembled another group of kids to sing and dance their way to stardom and fill his pockets. Only this time they were all white, which opened up an entirely new market, since these teen pop groups were most succesful with those audiences that could identify with or have a crush on the performers, which is the main reason why there are black Barbies on the market and main characters of all races and both sexes in sitcoms. Relatability people, the trick to selling something mass-produced is to make the consumer believe that your product is specifically about/for him/ her. And starting in 1986 there was a white version of the New Edition of the Jackson 5 on the market as well. Arguably there had been such a thing already in the form of the Osmonds, but the Osmonds were actually family like the Jacksons. NE and NKOTB were manufactured product. Especially New Kids on the Block who were recruited from five hundred auditioning boys and pieced together both by mastermind Starr.
The teenaged girls never even stood a chance.
Donnie Wahlberg, his little brother Mark, his best friend Danny Wood, one-time schoolmate Jordan Knight and his older brother Jonathan were the chosen ones, so while NKOTB weren’t all related to one another there were two pairs of brothers in the group, and they probably were all at the very least vaguely familiar with each other before they became a boyband in 1984. Well initially they were. Mark was replaced by Joey McIntyre for having
ADHD concentration problems or something. This time around Starr decided not to release their debut on his Warlock label but had them signed to Columbia, so they dropped it in 1986 and then… nothing.
Apparently the teenaged girls resisted the temptation just fine, thank you very much. Maybe the sweaters and shirts the guys wore on the front cover were too godawful for the ’80s even. Anyway, Starr had some explaining to do in the Columbia offices because he hadn’t made the executives richer. And then Columbia didn’t release NKOTB from their contracts, nor did they fire Starr as the group’s producer, which is a peculiar thing to do for a record company, but it paid off ultimately because their ’88 sophomore album, backed by better marketing sold seventeen million copies worldwide. Then in a brilliant bit of marketing Columbia decided to release a third single off their debut right in the middle of promoting their sophomore in the summer of ’89. That song, a Delphonics Cover titled Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind) with Jordan on leads, became a hit, like every NKOTB song released in that day and age and the debut went triple platinum after gather gathering dust on record store shelves for three years, kinda like how Blunted of Reality rode the Score‘s coattails in 1996.
So what does it actually sound like? Well, New Kids on the Block sounds exactly like Candy Girl. There’s the same jingling guitars, the same vocoder work courtesy of Starr himself, there’s a different Michael Jackson emulator doing most of the leads (Joey), there’s a kid with a somewhat gruffer voice busting out the occasional rap filling Bobby’s roll (Donnie), there’s a lot of saccharine love songs, there’s a primitive rap jam with redundant handclaps where everyone takes a turn behind the mic. If Maurice Starr learnt any new tricks since creating Candy Girl he sure goes out of his way to hide it from the listener. Someone should take a time machine to 1997 and hand this album over to Puff Diddy and Pastor Ma$e because they sampled the shit out of songs off NE’s debut on several occasions but appear to have completely overlooked this one as a source of recycle-able grooves.
The albums are so similar in fact that I don’t even have to think of a new end for this review:
Most of these songs are sunny, mildly funky electronic pop-soul concoctions that may be a bit too cheerful, saccharine and exuberant for some people’s tastes (New Kids on the Block was after all the world’s second manufactured, producer-groomed boyband) but as far as teen-pop goes this is pretty terrific stuff. Hooky hooks, danceable instrumentation and lyrics that are simple but never nonsensical. Stop It Girl, Popsicle and Angel stand out in particular, although Are You Down and Treat Me Right (can you guess the recurring theme in these songs?) don’t fall far behind.
Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind?) and I Wanna Be Loved By You are respectively pretty sweet death-of-puppy-love and yearning-for-puppy-love ballads, and although Joey can’t really fuck with mid-’70s Michael in this type of song (who can really?) he’s still got a lot more soul than your average teen heartthrob in the Justin Bieber/ Donny Osmond category.
New Kids on the Block is, like most teen pop albums, pure uncut fluff. It is however pretty good fluff. And while it doesn’t even hint at the greatness what was to come in the form of follow-up albums and solo projects by its various members it is more often than not bouncy, groovy, catchy music that’ll get you to tap your foot or nod you head or do whatever your music listening tic forces you to do. And for that it warrants a revisit, although you may want to pick up Candy Girl by New Edition first because it’s a slightly better album.
Stop It Girl
Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)
I Wanna Be Loved By You
Pick this up if you find it for a reasonable price. It isn’t very substantial or very original, but the guys have nice voices and Maurice Starr gave them catchy songs. And if you don’t take it too seriously and don’t over-analise it you can have a lot of fun with it.