Arts & Entertainment
3 min

CDs: Solange Knowles and New Kids on the Block

Angelic little sister and offensive pop garbage

It can’t be easy being Beyonce’s little sister. It’s not really an enviable position from an artistic point of view. Imagine being the Boxing Day to your sister’s Christmas. The London, Ontario to your sister’s London, UK.

From her days as the front woman of the mega-successful Destiny’s Child, Beyonce has gone on to become an established solo artist and hit maker, film actor, fashion designer, philanthropist and spokesmodel. She’s also the consummate professional; she can tumble down a flight of stairs mid-concert, pick herself up and act like nothing happened. So it comes as no big shock that by track one “God Given Name” on little sis’s new album Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams, Solange Knowles embraces her position in life singing, “I’m not her and never will be/ Two girls gone in different directions/ Striving towards the same galaxy/ Let my star light shine on its own/ No I’m no sister/ I’m just my God given name.”

Beyonce is the elephant in Solange’s room, and Solange wastes no time in addressing it, getting it out of the way and moving on. Smart, really, because Solange’s second album has more than its share of merits to be extolled.

From the get-go, it’s obvious Solange has great taste in music — I daresay better than Beyonce. With producers ranging from Thievery Corporation, the do-no-wrong Freemasons, Soulshock, The Neptunes and Mark Ronson, the album is packed with star power in production credits alone. “Sandcastle Disco” is sonic genius as she sings “I’m a cool low Jane/ With a skip on my feet/ I play tough as nails/ With my heart  on my sleeve/ I’m nothing but  a sandcastle/ Baby don’t blow me away.” Which leads into a gorgeous, ’60s doo-wop chorus that sounds utterly contemporary despite its decades-old Motown inspiration. Score one for little sis.

First single “I Decided (Part 1)” is pure Supremes homage (think “Baby Love”) and one of the best Neptunes productions ever.  The album cleverly also contains “I Decided (Part 2),” a complete rework of the track by the Freemasons, which has become a hit in England and is gaining ground here.

Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams is not a mind-blowing pop experience. It treads deeper, subtler ground than a Beyonce record would, which at least makes it interesting. It’s a pleasant album containing a few moments of smart production and good songwriting. The main criticism: It comes across as lacking cohesion, an overly ambitious mix of Motown, downbeat and doo-wop. A strange yet strong sophomore effort.

Download: “I Decided  (Part 2),” “Would’ve Been the One,” and “Sandcastle Disco.”

New Kids on the Block, circa 1989, were the biggest thing on earth. Multiplatinum sales, insanely high memorabilia profit margins and sellout shows the world over brought them to the brink of Beatle-esque hysteria, only this time, lucrative marketing contracts brought them to echelons of wealth à la Donald Trump. What is a pubescent street kid from Boston to do? Then it all came crashing down like a horribly arranged house of cards.

It has been perennially trendy (whether it’s 1988 or 2008) to trash the boys and, to be clear, that’s not what I’m setting out to do here. After all, there must be some merit in a (no, the) biggest pop band of the late ’80s reuniting, recording and touring, right? Right? Well, the answer is yes and no. To be fair, the urban/R’n’B market is saturated with far more than its fair share of completely shitty music. But surprisingly or not, people eat it up like it’s going out of style. Surprised as I am, the Kids’ new disc The Block isn’t that different from a lot of fluff on the market today.

The offerings on the The Block are no worse than the best Gwen Stefani or the worst Hard Candy-era Madonna. It is essentially preprogrammed urban with track upon track of layered vocals, predictable beats and, let’s not kid ourselves, the fey Jordan Knight, who was (and remains) the only one who could really sing.

First single “Summertime”  is an ode to stunted adolescent development. “I was like…/  Hey girl can I get your number?  I remember what you told me too/ ‘Don’t call after 10’/ But you know that I did/ ‘Cause I couldn’t stop thinkin’ ’bout you.” Don’t call after 10? These men are closer to 41 than 14, so we’ve got a problem. Instead of presenting songs by men for women, the New Kids revert straight back to paeans about boys liking girls not women. It’s all furtive masturbatory fantasy with the adult fuckfest never ending.

There’s a high stench of disingenuous popcraft in the air. Other tracks like “Lights, Camera, Action” (an ode to videotaped sex) add insult to this aural abomination. The album is peppered with guest appearances from current acts like Lady Gaga and Ne-Yo, to ostensibly bait the album, which in the canon of pop makes The Block the worst kind of offensive garbage. If you’re so inclined to scream your lungs out with a stadium full of 35-year-old mothers, the reunion tour kicks off Thu, Sep 18 at Air Canada Centre. At the very least, it should be an amusing spectacle. Tickets are now available.

Download: Something else.