By Socrate Kiabala
During my previous review, I discussed how the New Kids on the Block’s second album, Hangin’ Tough, turned five boys from Boston into the biggest pop group in the world, supported by legions of young female fans. Only for about a year, that is. Since they were literally everywhere, a backlash had started to develop. Compounded with lip-syncing accusations (coming right after the Milli Vanilli scandal didn’t help), which they strenuously denied, they went into hiding and worked on another album in secret. One that highlighted their R&B/hip hop inflexions even more.
Face the Music, which is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary this week, expressed a harder and tougher sound and image than the group’s previous output. Having strayed from Maurice Starr and choosing to work with a myriad of well-renowned R&B producers of the period to showcase a more mature sound that was a far cry from the bubblegum pop that had pigeon-holed them during their peak, and even producing a few tracks themselves, this album somehow manages to show more variety by New Kids standards. Apart from the simple love songs that catapulted them to crazy success five years earlier, the boys were now singing and writing about cheating, ungrateful girlfriends, socio-political issues and whatnot. Even their trademark love songs sounded more adult compared to what Starr had written for them. Ballads like ‘Never Let You Go’, ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Over’, and ‘If You Go Away’ carry more lyrical depth than their deep cuts, even if the latter is a repeat of their earlier hit, ‘Please Don’t Go Girl’. There was still a pop sense to the album, but it only complemented its sound rather than defining it.
While it may sound like a standard early 90s R&B album, the fact that it’s a New Kids album is its sole distinguishing factor. As one reviewer put it, Face the Music would’ve been a bigger commercial success had it been done by another group. Its undeserved flop was one of many events that lead to the New Kids on the Block breaking up a few months after its release. While some of the ills from the late Hangin’ Tough era still linger throughout the album, and some tracks like Dirty Dawg stand out like sore spots compared to their earlier image and music, but Face the Music shows that even while they were on their last legs, the New Kids on the Block were still able to keep up with the times, even if they knew they wouldn’t regain their astronomical stardom. If I were to rate it by the music alone, I would call it their best album to date.