1990, Music

Step by Step (1990) by New Kids on the Block

New Kids on the Block make subsequent boy bands sound sophisticated. Maurice Starr’s songs on their earlier records show a level of contempt for their fans that later boy band songwriters mostly avoided. (Both musically, in how unsophisticated and imitative his songs and musical ideas are and, especially, lyrically, as he realized that teens don’t care what their teen idols are saying.)

And this is their album where the kids got involved in the songwriting. I get that having more creative control is something most people want, and is an inevitable part of the boy band evolution. But in this case it seems to have made things worse. (They get a couple of cowrites. Their involvement is exaggerated, but I still figure I’ll blame them for this disaster.)

I’m pretty sure my step-sister had this tape because a) I recognize the cover and b) I recognize at least one of the non-singles here, which is only explicable if this tape was played in our car. That’s “Games”, a song which strikes me as catchier than some of the singles because of its gimmick – speeding up a voice, I think – but also likely because I heard it a lot as a child. (It’s also awful – and features a terrible rap – but it’s catchier than most. )

They try to get ambitious on “Tonight”, which has more flair than anything else of theirs I’ve ever heard. The attempt to get musically sophisticated only shows how utterly awful all of this is. “Tonight” is what happens when someone with little musical talent listens to Bach and consumes post modern art and thinks he can package it as a product for a boy band. It’s a fucking disaster without precedent on their earlier album I’ve heard. (And it was a still a hit. People have terrible taste in music.)

Another disaster is “Stay With Me Baby”. Have the cultural appropriation police come for Donnie Walhberg yet? Because they should. Rarely has a white man doing a Jamaican accent felt so inauthentic and so offensive. I have a hard time imagining I’m going to hear anything worse for quite some time. It’s a level of awful that is hard to equal.

Boy bands are for teens who don’t think. I get that. But the people who wrote songs for the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC were at least trying. (I can’t comment about the lesser boy bands of that era.) Nobody appears to be trying here, whether it’s the awful songs or the lazy contemporary production. The whole thing is approached as some kind of con on teenage consumers. (And I’m not saying the Kids were involved in this con enough to be aware of it. I’m sure they were just happy to be making money singing. I blame the handlers, who were just perpetually unable to come up with anything decent for them to sing.)

Among the very worst albums I’ve ever heard released by a major label. (I mean, it’s one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard, period.)


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