Let's start with the obvious: New Kids on the Block are neither new nor kids. But if their name is now a misnomer, the singers point out, they're in good company.
"You don't think of the Beach Boys as boys, right?" says Jordan Knight, 38, sitting with his bandmates in a hotel suite after wrapping a promotional appearance. "Are the Eagles flying around?"
"Garbage isn't garbage," says Danny Wood, 39.
NKOTB, as the group also was known to its predominantly preadolescent fans back in its late '80s/early '90s heyday, also includes Knight's brother Jonathan and Donnie Wahlberg, both 39, and Joey McIntyre, 35. Collectively, they have nine children, including three teenagers. Wahlberg's 7-year-old son, Elijah, makes a cameo appearance on "The Block," New Kids' first album in nearly 15 years.
Other guests on "Block" include an earlier boy band, New Edition, Akon and the Pussycat Dolls. Ne-Yo shares vocals on new single "Single," one of several thumping, suggestive tracks definitely not aimed at today's tween set. Previous single "Summertime" has sold more than half a million copies.
"There had been many conversations" about a reunion through the years, says Wahlberg, who has pursued an acting career. (He appears with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and 50 Cent in "Righteous Kill," which opens Friday.) "But it was usually someone else wanting us to get back together for their own motives."
Wahlberg and McIntryre did speak last year about the possibility of a New Kids tour. The latter had just wrapped a "Dancing With the Stars" tour. Then Wahlberg heard some material by Nazaree, a young songwriter featured on "Block," and "it really triggered something in me."
Jonathan saved a text message he received from McIntyre after the five started working together again. "It said, 'Are we really doing this?' " Jonathan recalls. "It was so surreal in the beginning."
Blender editor in chief Joe Levy says "Block" "is pitched adult, but it also has a very light, cute sound. It's (unclear) where this music should be played, on adult-contemporary radio or Disney radio."
But the group, which launches a tour Sept. 23 in East Rutherford, N.J., "may do better on T-shirt sales than album sales. It's an opportunity for a generation that grew up with New Kids to get back with its first crush."
The band members concede, happily, that their fan base is heavy on former tweenyboppers, now in their 20s and 30s.
At the peak of New Kids' fame, "these were 12-year-old girls, so we couldn't do anything with them then," McIntyre quips. "Now they're gorgeous women, but I'm married, so I still can't do anything. It's a tough spot to be in. But, as Jordan says, we're all single on stage."
Wahlberg grins. "I'm polygamous on stage. I'm Hugh Hefner on stage."
Don't be deceived by their cheeky frat-boy humor: These longtime friends have endured their share of grown-up drama since they last toured together in 1994. Wahlberg and wife Kim Fey filed for divorce in August; Wood is also divorced.
Still, their transition from boys to men was less traumatic than that of other teen stars. "We all grew up in Boston, in a working-class town," Wood says. "Our families kept us grounded."
Wood is wary of comparisons to latter-day boy bands such as the Jonas Brothers: "I think the only similarity is the hysteria." But Jordan allows that encountering fame as a bunch of guys looking out for each other may have given them an advantage over "some of the young girls" who have rocketed to fame since their last outing.
"There's something to be said about being with people who are going through the same exact thing as you," Jordan says. "Because we were friends before we got famous, we always knew who the person next to us was."
They needed a break, though — "and a lot of fans did," Wahlberg says. "They went their own way as well, and that's great. We're selling a lot more tickets now than we did in '94, and that's great, too."