'Manufactured' is a common insult to hurl at any band not seen to have 'paid their dues' by slogging around the club circuit for five years before finding fame. In many cases it's justified where a band clearly has been assembled specifically to 'shift product' to a specified demographic, usually teen and pre-teen schoolgirls, with every step of the way from look, sound and presentation carefully marketed by the men in suits to reap maximum profit.
To regard them all such bands as the wet dream of bean counting blue meanies is unfair though - when it comes down to it, the Sex Pistols were no less 'manufactured' than The Monkees, and both recorded songs that have become part of the DNA of popular music.
New Edition occupy a hinterland between the two extremes above. True, they had 'paid their dues' by forming and performing since 1978 before winning a Maurice Starr talent show and finding fame through his direction. But Starr then fashioned them into a clean cut 'Jackson 5' for the eighties and presented them with an album full of his own songs to sing. And if because of this New Edition can be given the benefit of the doubt, then there is no denying that they were only a skip and a jump away from New Kids On The Block, a boy band that Starr also created and who were as manufactured as custard creams.
So where does this leave 'Candy Girl'? From the moment the song starts and Ralph Tresvant opens his mouth to sing, the 'Jackson 5' influences pour down in like hammers from a roofer's bag. Tunewise, 'Candy Girl' borrows heavily from the Jackson's 'ABC'. Very heavily in fact. And for the parts that it doesn't borrow, it borrows from 'I Want You Back' instead, making 'Candy Girl' sound like a prototype 'mash up' of the two songs, albeit given an overhauling eighties remix.
Tresvant himself sounds uncannily like a young Michael and sings with the same joyful exuberance:
You are my world
Look so sweet
You're a special treat"
It needs a young voice to sing that without having to break out the vomit bags, but you just know he's grinning ear to ear all the while and it gives the tune an infectious appeal. And therein lies the problem. Although all five members of New Edition grew up on the rough side of town, and although 'Candy Girl' incorporates elements of the burgeoning hip hop and rap scene, it's not the sound of the street.
'Candy Girl''s psuedo Afrika Bambaataa flourishes and beats are not incorporated as part of the song, but are ornaments nailed onto a clean cut standard rhythm track that gets more and more wearing as it goes on - once you've heard the first thirty seconds then you've heard the whole thing. And while Tresvant might sound like Michael Jackson, he isn't, and he can't carry the song to the end once the electronic pings and pongs start to grate. There's no danger here, no excitement, no edge and both the song and the video seems to portray each band member as a Gary Coleman clone in a 'relax, we haven't come for your daughters' kind of way.
Granted, New Edition did not set out to be Public Enemy, but 'Candy Girl' sounds like an attempt to neuter that direction of development by making it palatable to the white middle classes before it's even had chance to grow teeth. And all for the sake of a quick buck. That Starr perfected this formula with 'New Kids' is telling, and it makes 'Candy Girl' less the sound of young America and more how America wanted it's young to sound.