In the three-plus decades since New Kids on the Block released their debut album, the Boston-born quintet has grown from fresh-faced pop upstarts to worldwide sensations to grown-and-sexy avatars of the boy-band ideal later upheld by the likes of *NSYNC, One Direction, and their onetime tourmates Backstreet Boys. While the five members’ voices and personas have changed over time, their appeal has remained robust; their soul-inspired pop and synchronized dance moves still pack venues on land and at sea, and in July, they’ll be headlining Fenway Park.
The five-song EP “Thankful,” which comes out Friday, is the group’s first collection of new music since 2013’s “10,” and it’s uneven but fun, placing the quintet’s well-known charms front and center while also cherry-picking from current pop trends. “Heartbeat” is a syrupy ballad propelled by marching-band drums and a unison chorus that could easily induce festival-crowd whooping; “One More Night” borrows from the barren textures of mid-2010s dance-pop on its verses, allowing the choruses to open up into slick longing punctuated by hoots. “Thankful” is sumptuous synthpop with a slow build into its chorus and lyrics that are gratitude-filled enough to potentially be about a lover, a supreme being, or a fanbase; it seems a likely candidate for a we-love-our-fans set piece during the group’s Total Package Tour, which kicks off Friday.
So, too, does “Still Sounds Good,” a boisterous love letter to the ’80s that springs off the bouncing-ball beat of Nena’s 1983 antiwar hit “99 Luftballoons.” This isn’t the first time the New Kids have engaged in retro-sounding self-mythologizing — “Tonight,” from their 1990 album “Step By Step,” looked back at their first half-decade while engaging in extremely overt Beatlemania — but this time around the guys give well-meaning shout-outs to those pop heavyweights who have passed away recently while also reminiscing about the New York oceanfront venue Jones Beach. Its nostalgia is somewhat incoherent lyrically, but it’ll probably be accompanied by a killer video package on tour.
The EP’s highest point is “Hard (Not Lovin U),” a slickly produced slice of jittery pop-funk that puts the spotlight on Jordan Knight’s smoothly longing falsetto. While the muttered asides buried underneath Knight’s vocal are a bit too wink-and-nod at times, they feel of a piece with the playfulness that the quintet exhibit in concert and in the interactions with their still-robust, still-excitable fanbase. It nicely sums up “Thankful,” which is as much a declaration of where the New Kids fit into pop’s crowded present as it is a love note to those listeners who have stuck around.
ESSENTIAL “Hard (Not Lovin U)”
New Kids on the Block play Fenway Park on July 8.Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.