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NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK & r & & r & The Block & r & & r & 1-1/2 STAR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & Y & lt;/span & ou know that guy at the bar? You know, that guy. That guy who's just a little too old to be toting cocktails, a little out of place wearing a Members Only jacket and stonewashed jeans? That's what this album basically is. It's that washed-up guy at the bar.





Look, NKOTB's The Block -- their first studio album in 14 years -- feels like they tried hard. Too hard.





They're obviously self-conscious about their bubblegum-pop roots -- though their name hardly helps matters -- so The Block devotes an inordinate amount of time to proving NKOTB's adulthood, addressing the grown-up stuff: Sex, women and clubs.





But the messages are not delivered in grown-up fashion -- grace and taste be damned. No, the messages are as sophomoric as they were two decades ago. The Block proves to be nothing more than a collection of songs performed by middle-aged has-beens.





-- TIM BROSS





DOWNLOAD: "Single (Feat. Ne-Yo)"





TERRENCE HOWARD


Shine Through It


4 STARS


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & Y & lt;/span & eah, that Terrence Howard. And wouldn't you know, the Academy Award-nominated actor of Hustle and Flow and Crash fame can sing, too.





In his debut album, which he wrote and produced, Howard is not the rapping pimp he was in "Whoop That Trick" from Flow. Instead, Howard's words are heard in a delicate croon that's shaded with a hue of pain and emotional strife. The suffering permeates his songs slowly and gracefully, allowing him to negotiate the tired subject of love with renewed sincerity and palpable hurt. "Love Makes You Beautiful," for instance, could be mistaken for yet another ode to amore what with its Biblical underpinnings: "Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up." But Howard's waves of emotional suffering rip through the ballad, and it is alive with that hurt. It is alive as a desperate Howard quavers, "Love should be real, love should be bold, love helps you heal, it warms your soul."





-- TIM BROSS





DOWNLOAD: "Sanctuary"
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