Sunday, September 24, 2000

98 turns up the heat on 'Revelation'

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's not just hometown pride to say that Cincinnati's own 98 can easily out-sing Backstreet Boys or 'NSync. Where the latter two take their cue from that earlier teen-pop phenom New Kids on the Block, 98 models itself on the more sophisticated harmony groups Boyz II Men and Take 6.

Universal; 3 1/2 stars
$18.98 CD; $12.98 cassette

        That has been the biggest problem the quartet has had in the battle of the boy bands. While Backstreet and 'NSync have racked up sugary, danceable pop hits, 98 has showcased its vocals in lush ballads. They've had huge hits and platinum albums, but haven't cracked the arena-filling, record-breaking sales of the other two groups.

        Which is where Revelation, to be released Tuesday, comes in.

        The first two songs tell the story. “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)” moves to an uptempo Latin rhythm that has made the single No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

        “The Way You Want Me To” is dancefloor-ready pop, this time in an electronic R&B setting, complete with processed vocals. Nick and Drew Lachey co-wrote the song with their Swedish production team (another wrinkle shared with Backstreet and 'NSync).

        Then it's back to more familiar 98 territory with the string-laden vow of faithfulness, “Stay the Night.”

    The Disney Channel's free 98 concert taped Aug. 10 at the Waterfront in Covington will premiere at 8 p.m. on Oct. 7.
    The one-hour 98 and Hoku in Concert also includes scenes of the band visiting the School for Creative and Performing Arts, the Cincinnati Reds batting practice at Cinergy Field and the Cincinnati Bengals training camp. <
    Disney will repeat the concert six times: 8:45 p.m. Oct. 10; 10:10 p.m. Oct. 13; 3 p.m. Oct. 15; 4 p.m. Oct. 17; 8:40 p.m. Oct. 19; and 10:50 p.m. Oct. 23.

        While the bulk of the disc remains the ballads that 98 has specialized in, Revelation includes “Dizzy.” The song, previewed here in the group's Disney special taped at the Waterfront in August, features a rap segment as well as electronically altered vocals recalling Dayton, Ohio's, Roger Troutman.

        Another Revelation here is the group's new songwriting. The guys seem to have spent as much time with their rhyming dictionar ies as they have pumping up their biceps. Group members have writing credits for 10 of the 12 songs.

        Lyrically, the album doesn't mess with the 98 formula — boy wants girl (“Give Me Just One Night,” “You Should Be Mine”), boy gets girl and pledges eternal fidelity (“The Way You Want Me To,” “Always You and I,” “My Everything”), girl dumps boy, who still wants her (“He'll Never Be (What I Used to Be to You),” “Never Giving Up”).

        For 98 fan base of teen-age girls, Revelation comes as an enhanced CD with video footage and includes an extended CD sleeve with plenty of pictures.

        If any doubts remain as to the guys' singing ability, check out those rich harmonies in the unaccompanied “I'll Give It All (Interlude).” That, of course, should be no revelation to anyone who has followed the group for the past few years.

        But while Revelation marks more than a few steps ahead for 98 the question remains: Is it enough to put the home team over the top as it faces Backstreet and 'NSync? On Tuesday, the guys step up to the plate.


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