The arrival of the modern boy band, as much due to demographics as sound. Though Maurice Starr’s concept – New Edition, but white – dates from the mid-80s, the band were an inititial flop. But by 1988 they were a better fit: this pop-R&B sound seemed like the kind of thing a bunch of street-smart white kids might make – or rather, it could be pitched as such to the younger and less street-smart white kids Starr wanted to buy it. The boys’ looks and moves would do the rest.
In the UK we got New Kids in one great compressed spurt – the promo campaigns for Hangin’ Tough and Step By Step collapsing into each other so the band were suddenly inescapable for most of a year, new hits arriving every second month. This also meant their breakthrough hit here wasn’t the sweet bumfluff soul of “Please Don’t Go Girl” but the far more stripped-down and active “Right Stuff”. And the romantic flourishes here – the “all that I needed was you…” bits – feel like trimmings, with the point of the record being that chunky keyboard riff and beat. Or rather, the dancing the riff enables – motion is as central to this song as to any house hit, but it’s the performers’ movement, not the audience’s, which counts. In the video, the ‘story’ – NKOTB as a teen posse, driving around and goofing around – is separated from the dancing, which becomes an abstracted selling point in its own right. (Easy to do now you’ve severed the group from all that distracting ‘instruments’ nonsense).
But is it a good record? Well, not really. It’s cute, the riff is memorable, but the boys’ singing – cloying but pretty on “Please Don’t Go Girl” – is subdued here. When they have to end each riff with a chanted “The right stuff!” they sound like boys mumbling “Amen” in school assembly, and it deadens the mood not amplifies it. But even without that buzz-harsher, Maurice Starr’s electro-funk production would feel leaden and lumpy. It’s hard to tell whether this is because the style is a couple of years behind the times (the keyboards especially shriek 1986) or just that Starr isn’t especially good with this relatively heavier sound. Either way, it makes for a long four minutes.