New Kids all grown up and falling short on drab ‘10’
The unspoken rule about a comeback is that it’s supposed to happen once. Twice, maybe, if there’s a considerable lapse in time.
New Kids on the Block are betting that lightning will strike again with their new album. “10,” which will be released on Tuesday and is the Boston-bred band’s seventh studio effort, follows the surprise success of 2008’s “The Block.” That album, their first in 14 years, triggered a reunion that put them back on the road and led to a joint tour with Backstreet Boys in 2011.
Their latest, however, smacks of a band feeling the need to have new music to play live. Given how many hits they’ve had since emerging in the mid-1980s — from “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” to “Hangin’ Tough” to “Step by Step” — that’s a curious move.
Announced in January, “The Package Tour” pairs NKOTB with 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men, with stops at TD Garden on June 2-3. A one-off record-release party at the Orpheum Theatre is set for Saturday; not surprisingly, it sold out almost immediately.
As One Direction has proved, there’s an audience for boy bands. Except, in this case, the boys are men and perhaps a little leery of coming across as an oldies act. “10” is their first album of all-new material since the reunion, but the shine is off. It’s full of innocuous Top 40 pop, choruses sung in unison with little to distinguish one song from the next. Played from start to stop, it washes over you with a mind-numbing effect, an unnecessary addition to their catalog.
Whereas “The Block,” which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart, had an edge and big-name collaborations (Lady Gaga, Ne-Yo) that made it attractive to urban radio, “10” is far more mellow. There are no cameos, and it’s heavy on drab dance-pop and sluggish ballads driven by keyboards better suited for cruise-ship entertainment.
Even with thumping tempos, “10” drags. From its lyrics to its plodding production, the opening “We Own Tonight” sounds modeled after Fun.’s “We Are Young.” Danny Wood’s rap that comes toward the end of “Miss You More” is not that removed from a certain “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg.
There are a few stabs at a contemporary direction. First single “Remix (I Like The),” about a woman who “went from wallpaper to heartbreaker,” is a collision of electro-pop and a harder rock vibe anchored by crisp drums and a particularly strong lead vocal from Donnie Wahlberg. “Wasted on You” has the pomp and circumstance of Ryan Tedder’s thunderous ballads (think Beyoncé’s “Halo” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone”).
“Crash” feels like a Chris Brown rave-up, with a euphoric chorus tailor-made for the dance floor: “We’re gonna crash to the moon and the stars in the sky/ We’re gonna crash into it tonight/ Into the music and out of your mind. Get ready to blast off.”
On “Jealous (Blue)” they come closer to the retro R&B that Timberlake pulled off so well on his latest, “The 20/20 Experience.” Harmonies glide off Jordan Knight’s falsetto, which underpins the song and gives it a sensuous ambience. It’s one of the fleeting moments where you hear a spark of inspiration.
“Baby, I like the new you” goes one line from “Remix (I Like The).” If only the feeling were mutual.