When New Kids on the Block announced that they would be reuniting to record a new album and tour, 20-somethings around the country shrieked with glee. For girls who grew up sleeping on New Kids bedsheets, swapping trading cards with their friends, and fighting over who was the cutest member, this was a dream come true. But even as they pulled their New Kids t-shirts from storage, the question echoing in every fan's mind was, "Can they do it again?"

The New Kids on the Block were the catalyst that started the boy band craze that dominates the current market. Super producer Maurice Starr auditioned boys from all over the country to create his vision of a young, hot pop group. He finally chose five boys from Boston: brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight, bad boy Donnie Wahlberg, his best friend Danny Wood, and baby faced Joey McIntyre. The group got off to a slow start; their first album failed to catch national attention and received limited airplay, mainly around their hometown of Boston. Two years later, and a bit older and wiser, the group reconvened to record their second album. This time the guys had more input and creative control over their sound, and Jordan, Donnie, and Danny received associate producer credits. The formula proved successful as, after a slow burn, the album, Hangin' Tough, rocked the Billboard charts and finally took the boys to stardom.

What followed was more than the boys could ever have dreamed of. After their third album, Step by Step, was released the New Kids reached international super stardom. Their singles were burning up the charts, they were performing over 200 shows a year, and there were hundredes of items branding the New Kids image.

The boys rode the waves of fame for the next few years, but as they and their fans grew older, their popularity waned. In June of 1994, after lackluster album and concert sales, the New Kids said goodbye and went their separate ways.

In the years that followed they all embarked on individual careers. Some stayed in the entertainment industry, while others left the business all together. Jonathan Knight became a prolific real estate developer, while his brother Jordan and Joe McIntyre went on to have successful solo careers. Danny Wood opened his own Boston based record label and had a brief stint on MTV's reality TV circuit. Donnie Wahlberg headed west and became a respected actor in Hollywood.

But surely the most headlines the boys have grabbed since disbanding is their reunion. While fans were busy rejoicing at the return of their beloved pop group, critics took turns making jokes and labeling the Kids, now men, has-beens. What followed was a surprise to everyone. The initial 20 dates set for the tour soon sold out, and additional dates were added. The international fans wanted their own piece of the action, and a European tour has been planned for 2009.

The big question: Will the new New Kids live up to the New Kids of yore?

If their brand new album is any indication, the guys and the fans have nothing to worry about. Titled The Block, the sound is distinctly new yet with the catchy beats and hooks that made so many teen girls fall in love with them 10 years ago. The first single from the album, "Summertime," achieved modest success, peaking at 36 on the Billboard charts but far from the performance fans were used to from the group. In its first week on the charts the album sold over 100,000 copies and came in at number two. The success was the icing on New Kids comeback cake.

The New Kids aren't kidding themselves. They know that they've grown up and so has their audience. They are not trying to recapture the glory days but instead prove that their success was because of their talent, and not the result of a good PR machine like so many artists today. Their sound has matured with age and with the help of hot artists like Ne-Yo, Lady Gaga, Akon, and the Pussycat Dolls, they have created an album that gives fans irresistible beats they expect from the former pop princes.

The album opens with the song that really inspired the reunion. Titled "Click, Click, Click," it was written and produced by talented newcomer Nazri. According to their website, NKOTB.com, Donnie was given the demo and blown away by what he heard. He knew it was the song that was going to bring the group back to the studio. The beat is so catchy it's hard to sit still - from the opening notes through Donnie's rap interlude this song will be a hit.

In "Big Girl Now," the boys collaborate with Lady Gaga and remind the audience that the boys have grown up and that they embrace their mature sound. With lyrics like, "Your sexy walk your sexy talk/little girl you're clearly not the same kid from the block," they acknowledge that their fan base has aged with them. This theme is continued in "Grown Men" with it's modern Motown sounds, which again speaks to its grown female fans with the help of sexy girl group the Pussycat Dolls.

But don't think that the boys rely on the guest artists and big-name producers like Timbaland to carry their comeback. Songs like "Dirty Dancing," "Sexify my Love" and "Lights Camera Action" are a unique blend of hip hop and electronic dance music that create a new signature sound for the group. The album is a great blend of songs that should get wide club play and love songs like "2 in the Morning," which pairs the smooth grooves and tender words that made the Kids so popular with their female teenage fans.

Those loyal fans will find the album to be a piece of euphoric pop bliss with a grown-up edge that makes the Kids relevant in today's market. Let's not kid ourselves, the lyrics are anything but life changing, but therein lies the joy of the New Kids on the Block: they know their audience love them for their fun, catchy beats, something the album is full of. In the entertainment industry, where aging is a sin of epic proportions, the "Kids" have proven that growing up and becoming men is not necessarily a bad thing!

Story by Marna Palmer
Starpulse contributing writer