Sunday, September 28, 2008

Article from the Telegraph

Here is an article from the Telegraph. Thanks to Len for the news tip.

New Kids on the Block: Boys to men

Fourteen years since they split up New Kids on the Block are back with a new album and tour. Bryony Gordon meets them in Los Angeles

So this is how childhood dreams are shattered. You fly all the way to Los Angeles to meet the band who provided the soundtrack to your adolescence, the people who performed in the first concert you attended, the men who gave you knots in your tummy and first made you aware of the concept of romance – and you end up talking to them about the credit crunch.

Jon Knight, one fifth of former teen-pop sensations New Kids on the Block, wants to know about house prices in London. In Boston, where he has worked as a real estate agent since the group disbanded 14 years ago – leaving a trail of broken hearts – they are still astronomical, despite the economic downturn. A two-bed flat, even in the rough end of town, will cost half a million dollars. But he is worried that things are changing. He recently made a loss on a property. He sighs. I sigh.

That's the problem with reunions. Often, nothing is ever quite as good as you remember, and then, with hindsight, you wonder whether they were ever that good in the first place. It is now 20 years since five clean-cut Boston teenagers burst on to the scene with a catchy R&B-pop crossover song called The Right Stuff.

Taken on by producer Maurice Starr, who also created New Edition, they went on to sell 70 million albums and tour for 200 nights of each year. There was New Kids on the Block bed linen, lunch boxes and dolls – all of which I think I owned. There was a Saturday morning cartoon in their likeness, and Nintendo even made a computer game of them.

Take That were created as a British version of the band. Without the New Kids, there would be no Backstreet Boys or *NSync, and thus very possibly no Justin Timberlake. While you may not thank them for that legacy, a trillion girls would, and even now, when I mention that I am going to interview them, friends of both genders who should know better burst into versions of Hangin' Tough and Step By Step, two of their biggest singles.

And here they are, on a blisteringly hot California morning, worrying about the credit crunch but mostly, it must be said, rehearsing for a new tour of the States which sold out within moments of going on sale. I present them, in slightly stalkerish fashion, with a programme from a past tour and Jon Knight, his brother Jordan, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood fall around in a mixture of giggles and embarrassment.

They wonder why they are wearing eyeshadow, and perms, and trousers above their waists, but Donnie, in one picture wearing a pair of boxers on his head, says their costumes "were about as out of control as it got. There were some alcoholic beverages, some wild parties with girls, but that's all good, healthy stuff, isn't it?"

"I don't think, when these pictures were taken," says Jordan, "that any of us were mentally able to grab hold of anything. It was nuts. With that kind of success comes a lot of intensity. It was a blast because we were, what?, 15, 16, 17. But at the age you do need a few moments to yourself."

"And also," says Joey, "it was always kind of frustrating because the fans were usually about 12 and I couldn't do anything. Now they are legal – they have rooms in the hotel that they have paid for with their credit cards whereas before they were all waiting outside – but I'm attached with a baby and I still can't do anything about it. "

Indeed, a lot has changed since the high-waisted trousers and the perms. They have aged well but it is impossible not to cringe at the New Kids moniker. Donnie and Danny have children of the age they were when they started in the group – Donnie's 16-year-old son plays guitar in a death-metal band and "refuses to play with me because he doesn't do pop". On tour, they won't be sitting on stools but nor will they be breakdancing on their heads – they tried their new moves the day before this interview and are feeling it when we meet.

The music industry, too, is a different beast. I bought their first album on vinyl but now it is rare to meet someone who buys CDs. "The lifespan of an artist is about as fast as it takes to log on to the internet," says Danny. They are aware that if they were starting out now, they would probably have to take part in a television talent show to make it, "and that's quite difficult," says Donnie, who admits to a bizarre passion for "that Paul Potts dude [who won last year's Britain's Got Talent]. But maybe we would actually have been more popular now, because the music business is predominantly made up of what we were always accused of being – manufactured."

That is perhaps the reason for their reunion. It has absolutely nothing to do with the success of Take That, obviously. "Ha! No," says Jordan. "I handed over the flame to them back in the Nineties at the Smash Hits awards, when I presented them with the best band statue or something. We're in cahoots with them. We call them up and say, 'You're touring this year? OK, we'll do the next one.'"

Another possible motivation for getting back together is that none of them have exactly set the charts alight since they parted ways – amicably – in 1994. Jordan and Joey released albums that hit the American top 10 but quickly disappeared; Joey went on to feature in the US version of Strictly Come Dancing, while Jordan appeared in a series of reality shows including Five's Trust Me, I'm a Holiday Rep, alongside Jodie Marsh and Syd Little ("Syd was my favourite; I'd like it if he came to see us when the tour reaches England").

Danny was part of Upper Street, MTV UK's much mocked attempt at relaunching former boy-band members as one new group – he tells me that we drink too much in Britain. The only two who have had any real professional success are Jon, with his real estate company, and Donnie, who has attempted to follow in the acting footsteps of his brother Mark Wahlberg with roles in The Sixth Sense and Band of Brothers.

Their new material, mostly penned by Wahlberg, and featuring collaborations with Ne-Yo and their old producer Teddy Riley, is catchy enough, perfectly attuned to the current Timberlake style of R&B-inflected pop, which, in a funny way, they created. It will do well because they have a loyal fan-base hungry for nostalgia; a fan-base who were, frankly, never that musically discerning in the first place – as long as there were hip thrusts and a vague tune, we were happy.

But they are clearly passionate about what they have created, and it is endearing. "We wanted to invite our fans back to the table and if anyone else wants to join us they can," says Donnie. "But we're not here to have a party with people who don't like us. It wouldn't make sense for me to walk past you to get to two people who were never into us." And with that, all talk of the credit crunch is almost forgiven.

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