by John Kiesewetter, The Cincinnati Enquirer
A new album, a summer tour.
It's like old times for 98 Degrees, who will hit the road May 28 to promote 2.0, their first studio album since 2000, and tour with fellow 1990s heartthrobs New Kids On The Block and Boyz II Men.
Singing together again "felt like the 12 years (apart) were never there. That was a relief to all of us. We knew that we got this," said Nick Lachey, 39.
"It sounds freaking awesome!" gushed Jeff Timmons, 40, whose 1995 Los Angeles vocal group morphed into 98 Degrees with the addition of Justin Jeffre and brothers Nick and Drew Lachey, all graduates of Cincinnati's School for Creative & Performing Arts.
Since their 2002 "hiatus" from performing together, the guys often talked about getting back together. They took their fans' temperature last August â?? singing on NBC's Today show and at Hershey, Pa. â?? then got serious about harmonizing their schedules.
"This takes a year-and-a-half commitment. That was our biggest hurdle in getting back together," said Drew Lachey, 36, the youngest of the group.
"We've been thinking about getting together for a long time. It just took us longer than we thought," said Jeffre, 40.
Getting back together already has yielded some pleasant surprises â?? the invitation to join the nostalgic boy band Package Tour, and the brisk ticket sales in February for the original 25 dates. They'll now do 47 shows through Aug. 4.
"To be selling out shows with legendary bands in huge arenas, that was super gratifying," said Timmons, a Las Vegas-based music producer, writer and performer.
Their 2.0, released May 7, is a worth-the-wait more mature reboot with songs about men in their 30s looking for love and relationships penned by Bruno Mars, R&B songwriter Ne-Yo and many unknown composers.
"We found a balance between classic 98 Degrees ... and fitting into the modern world," Jeffre said.
Their Microphone single will be followed by Impossible Things, a ballad with rich harmonies that Timmons called "a throwback to our old days." The guys didn't record any of their original songs to expedite the album. The release was set after being invited to tour for the first time with the New Kids and Boyz.
"We all like each other. We all complement each other," said Nick Lachey, who splits his time between Cincinnati and Los Angeles.
Jeffre recalled that his first 98 Degrees gig was singing Boyz II Men's National Anthem arrangement at Dodger Stadium â?? three days after he arrived in Los Angeles. Two days after Drew drove cross-country, he was opening with 98 Degrees at the Los Angeles House of Blues.
The 10-week tour is being squeezed in between New Kid singer Donnie Wahlberg's filming schedule for CBS' Blue Bloods drama, and before some Boyz II Men obligations and Drew Lachey's summer arts camp with his wife, choreographer Lea, in Cincinnati.
The 2013 tour will be different from 98 Degrees' first tour in 1997, when Timmons and Nick Lachey had 98 degrees tattooed on their right biceps in Phoenix. (Nick has since covered it with a larger tattoo.)
Performing solo in recent years "enhanced our ability," Timmons said.
"Being better individually made us better as a group. Finally Justin is pulling his weight," Nick Lachey said with a smile.
Jeffre didn't miss a beat. He noted that Lachey was the worst of the four at remembering lyrics. "Even songs he's written!" Jeffre said.
"We have a better perspective," Nick Lachey said. "We appreciate going on tour and making another record together."
Instead of scheduling a second show here, promoters added stops in Louisville, Columbus and Indianapolis. Doing 47 concerts in 69 days "is the most grueling schedule I've ever seen," Nick Lachey said.
"We're hoping we haven't killed each other by the end of the tour," his brother said.
But if all goes well, 98 Degrees could tour more, after a break in August, Drew said. "We'll probably go back out in the fall. Success builds on success."