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AN INITIAL COMEBACK

THE RETURN OF NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

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So you’re a New Kid on the Block. You’ve sold more than 18 million albums of chart-topping bubble-gum pop, not to mention trading cards, pajamas, and lunch kits. Thanks to a gross income of $115 million, you and your fellow Kids have been named Forbes’ highest-paid entertainers during 1990-91. Then, cultural overload and a lip-synching scandal in early 1992 render you a living joke. You disappear for a year, shorten your name to NKOTB, split from producer- puppet master Maurice Starr, and unveil a new album, Face the Music (see review on page 56). Aren’t your 15 minutes up already?

”The whole roller coaster ride we took before was incredible,” admits world-weary Donnie Wahlberg, now an old Kid of 24, ”but I think we all feel a little incomplete. What happens when you become, like, a social phenomenon is that you’re not thought of as a person anymore. It’s like the world is, like, desensitized about you.” According to Wahlberg, who produced four songs on Face the Music, the hype and merchandising that fueled the New Kids machine obscured the group’s true talents. And once he had produced a successful debut album for his brother, underwear model/rapper Marky Mark, Wahlberg says, letting Starr retain control over the band’s every move became ”impossible.” (Starr’s office did not return calls.) That break-plus tension within the group and a raft of unrealized solo projects-slowed work on Face the Music, the band’s first album of new material in nearly four years. ”We just needed time to grow up,” says Wahlberg. But will the industry give NKOTB the time? ”A lot of programmers are afraid of this record,” says Brian Bridgman, music director at KIIS-FM, a Top 40 station in L.A. ”They’re not listening to it. They’re going, ‘Oh, it’s New Kids. What are we going to do with this? We can’t play it.”’ ”It’s not about lunch boxes or lip-synching-none of that,” Wahlberg says heatedly. ”The title sums up everything: It’s like, ‘Face the music.’ It’s like, this is what we do-we’re entertainers. We’re not here to save the world.” Saving their reputations may be hard enough. -Nisid Hajari