By Socrate Kiabala
Nowadays, when it comes to wildly successful boy bands, my generation is definitely familiar with One Direction, one of the most recent examples. They’re also familiar with the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and Take That. But they’re not really familiar with the New Kids on the Block, who are often seen as one of the first groups to set the blueprint for the modern boy band as we know it, bringing about an era of pretty boys who served as objects of affection for teenage girls around the world. And they did so with their second album, Hangin’ Tough, which I will review as part of its 30th anniversary.
Initially flopping when it was first released, a steady stream of hit singles led to the album gaining steam, finally blowing up the following year and the New Kids on the Block becoming the darlings of young America. Some say it was only because they were five cute boys, but I’d say it was down to the album’s combination of simple and memorable hooks and melodies and the complex mesh of pop, R&B, soul and even rock, courtesy of the group’s founder/producer/friend, Maurice Starr. Songs like ‘The Right Stuff’, the title song, and ‘Cover Girl’ are examples that stand out from the bunch, while ballads like ‘Please Don’t Go Girl’ and ‘I’ll Be Loving You’ mellow things out and show that the New Kids are capable of singing with soul. While the more uptempo tracks can easily persuade the listener to dance along or chant with the group, the ballads slow things down and create a contrast between the other tracks.
While the music is rather danceable, Starr’s lyrics don’t really carry much substance. Apart from the rebellious and rocking title song, almost every lyric on Hangin’ Tough doesn’t really appeal to anyone outside the young, female audience that the New Kids would embrace by the 80s. Another flaw of this album is its inconsistency. On one track, it gains steam, but the next, it slows down. This is why songs like ‘I Need You’, ‘I Remember When’, and ‘Hold On’ are rather forgettable in comparison to the hit singles. The second half’s saving grace comes in ‘My Favourite Girl’, a homage to the freestyle and R&B music that was hitting the charts 30 years ago. Apart from that, nothing really special.
When one listens to Hangin’ Tough, it seems like a pretty decent pop album for its time, even if it did open the floodgates for the boy band boom of the 90s. Sure, the lyrics can sound banal and the production can seem dated, but if you’re a sucker for 80s music, you might be able to tolerate this album, and just about anything from the New Kids on the Block.