Ten years ago, Boston's most revered and most mocked music acts dueled to the proverbial death as Aerosmith's schmaltzy "Angel" and New Kids on the Block's even schmaltzier "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)" did battle on the Billboard 100 charts.
Six years later, after shortening their name to NKOTB as a final attempt to bolster street cred failed, the quintet finally unplugged their once-percolating money machine. The former New Kids, now young adults, weren't seen or heard from again until Donnie Wahlberg followed his younger brother Mark's footsteps into Hollywood. All the while, Jordan Knight, who matched Donnie letter for letter at the top of the NKOTB fan mail race, was biding his time waiting to make a comeback.
"When I first signed my [solo] contract, I didn't have no time limit, so there was no pressure on me really," Jordan says regarding the lost years: 1995 to 1997. "I was like, 'Cool, I can just relax and take my time on this thing.' There was no rush."
Now, it's time to see if Father Time has been kind to the New Kid with the Colgate-fresh smile. The soft-spoken brunette first formed a partnership with twenty one-year-old songwriter and engineer Robin Thicke -- son of Growing Pains dad Alan Thicke -- last year and recorded a batch of heartstring-tugging songs like "Change My Ways" and "Can I Come Over Tonight?" For the last six months, Jordan has been hashing out the remainder of his solo album with the production/writing team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, famed for their work with Boyz II Men and Janet and Michael Jackson.
"They really like my ideas, and to me that's like a dream," he says of working with Jam and Lewis in Minneapolis. "For any artist, it's like a dream for some superstar producers to really value your opinions and your ideas. They really advocate going with the flow. They're not perfectionists."
But they are bank rollers. And since radio singles pay the rent, Jam and Lewis are molding Knight into a pop poster boy with the most commercially salable dance beats and clean cut good looks since ...well, the New Kids. Therein lies the problem for Knight, who says he feels internal and external pressure to dress up "Please Don't Go Girl" and "You Got It (The Right Stuff)" in 1998 clothes, and escort them to the Grammys all over again.
"There was some kind of pressure about what others expected, and where I wanted to go," he says about the push to mimic NKOTB on his first solo venture. "As a creative person, I wanted to try different things. But I know that if you go too far off course, then it's too extreme. If you stay on the same course you were on, you're stale and washed-up. It's a fine line."
The grown-up Jordan Knight hopes to return to MTV sans baby fat this fall with either "A Different Party" or "I Could Give You" -- the two finalists competing for the esteemed title of first single. That track will likely debut before Christmas, with the full-fledged album on Interscope Records hitting stores early next year. A fully costumed, dance trouped tour will follow only if the disc sells enough copies to save Knight from solo shame, he says.
"Everyone is going to associate me with the New Kids on the Block, no matter how hard I don't want them to," Knight says. "It's just inevitable. That's who I am. I don't feel like this album represents New Kids on the Block, but everyone else will."