Of all the reunited bands hitting the road this year, New Edition may be the only group whose members are decades away from collecting Social Security and have a hit record on the charts.
After spending eight years apart experiencing the highs - and lows - of life as solo entities, Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe have come back to the group that made them preteen sensations when they made their debut in 1983. <,
Back then, the group - minus Johnny Gill, who joined as Brown’s replacement in 1987 - was hailed as the next Jackson Five and became an instant hit with bubble-gum hits such as “Candy Girl,” and “Mr. Telephone Man.” They sold millions of albums and helped the industry refocus on teen talent, a trend that is still evident on the charts today.
Fast forward to 1996, and it’s like nothing ever changed. Their new recording, “Home Again,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart two months ago and has already sold more than 2 million copies and produced two hits. It will be the primary focus of the group’s upcoming tour, which will mark the first time all the men - now in their late 20s - have toured together.
“It feels like we’re a brand-new group,” Bell said. “It’s a real positive feeling… that we’re still here, that we still have fans out there.”
“I think more than anything we feel blessed,” Gill said. “There has been such a demand for this project for many years.”
But just a few years ago, the prospect of a New Edition reunion seemed like an idea that would never gel.
Brown was on top of the charts with his hugely successful album “Don’t Be Cruel.” Gill and Tresvant were also riding high on their own solo projects. And Bell, DeVoe and Bivins found platinum success as the hip-hop dance group BVD.
Yet, despite a consistent string of hits the group racked up as New Edition, they were unable to sustain the success of the projects that made them solo sensations. Brown, Gill and Tresvant all followed up their albums with disappointing sales, and BVD failed to garner one hit off their sophomore project.
“When we did the last run, between that, the concert support and things that we wanted to do with those projects, it never elevated to another level. So up to a certain point, we just kind of left them alone,” Tresvant said.
While it may not have benefited their solo careers, the slump was a boost to New Edition.
“Had those second attempts been as successful as the first ones, we wouldn’t be here right now,” he said.
On top of trying to hold on to shaky solo careers, some of the group also made big changes in their personal lives. Brown married Whitney Houston, became a father and also went through muchpublicized legal battles with lawenforcement. On the other end of the spectrum, Bivins started Biv 10 Records with Motown, and is credited with guiding the careers of Boyz II Men, among other groups.
“There are families, there are kids, there are other obligations that we all had,” Gill said. “We’ve always believed that things happen in a sense when they’re supposed to happen.”
The goal of reuniting was never far from their minds, partly because of their philosophy that the group is sort of a nest from which they may fly the coup, but eventually return back home - hence the title of the album, “Home Again.”
“Overall, I think our No. 1 priority is keeping the mothership going,” said Gill. “Because, this is where it all started and we definitely have a love for that and realize if it wasn’t for New Edition - the mothership - there’s no telling where our careers might be.”
Although the focus of the album was obviously New Edition, the men tried to incorporate some of the characteristics of the solo acts while staying true to the musical thrust of the group. The result is a smooth collection of R&B; tunes with a touch of hip-hop flavor.
“We kind of blended all of the different talents of this group a lot more than we utilized all the different talents on any album before this,” Tresvant said.
The group used producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis once again for the disc, but also called on some of the younger hit-makers, such as Sean “Puffy” Combs and Jermaine Dupri, to update the group’s groove, not necessarily to create a new “sound.”
“I don’t think you can really even pinpoint a New Edition sound,” Gill said. “I think when you listen to this album what you’re going to get is the fact that we’ve lived more, we’ve learned more and just experienced more.”
Although the group just kicked off its tour in its hometown of Boston, New Edition’s status after that is unclear. The group wants MCA, the record label for the group and all members except Gill, to give them a contract that would allow them to continue recording together, but also keep their solo careers intact.
“I think our intentions are to basically be able to do both and I think we want to try and figure out a way to balance it out,” said Gill.
Not only do the men want to balance solo careers and New Edition, they also plan to launch other groups, and break down the nucleus of New Edition even more. Brown, Tresvant and Gill are already talking about starting their own group - Stone Cold Gentlemen - and Bell is pursuing a solo career.
But the men insist that New Edition will always be their first devotion.
“I think from the first day we’ve gotten together, there’s been so many dreams, so many hopes… so many things we wanted to do,” said Bell. “We want to put our names in the history books.”