The Backstreet Boys. Negative things aside, the quintet became one of the
top-selling male pop vocal acts in the history of music. After perfecting their
craft overseas, they took the U.S. by storm when 'Millennium' came out in 1999.
It actually was their second U.S. release, selling almost 2.5 million in its
first week, about half-million short of Alanis Morrissette's 'Jagged Little
Pill.' They became everything a lot of music fans hated, prefab to a fault, but
yet so entrancing. They were something you loved to hate because they embodied
the spirit of teen pop, all image, all gloss, and no substance and really a lack
of discernible talent. They also spawned many imitation acts and also was
competition for another Orlando-based boy band, 'NSYNC. By 2000, BSB ceded their
top status to them after their latest album, 'Black and Blue' failed to outsell
'NSYNC's 'Celebrity.' But the boy band era ended when BSB released a so-called
greatest hits album, sparking rumors that the band had broken up. Then they
announced that tey would take a break, breaking the hearts of teenage and
pre-teen girls all over the country and the world.
That was 2001. A horrible Nick Carter album, several trips for AJ to drug and alcohol rehab, a Kevin trip across Broadway and three years later, the five men came back together on Oprah, of all shows to announce a comeback, and proclaimed a new album would be in the works. A year later, here it is, 'Never Gone,' which really was a four-year journey, an album that I consider to be one of the surprises for 2005.
This is I believe the first post-Lou Perlman album for Backstreet. Perlman as most music types well know was the man, the Svengali, who literally created the Backstreet Boys. Rather than try to hone and develop whatever talent the five men had, he created an image for them, which of course spawned millions upon millions of screaming, swooning teen girls (many of the first fans are probably now in college...I hope...). Of course with that. lots of money was made, but at the expense of respectability and credibility outside the bubble-gum, dreamy world of teen pop. He made them evertyhing the anti-popsters hated. So one must wonder, without the man that carried their success, how would they do on their own (well, with a different guy handling them...)??? Well...you'd be surprised at what happens when a group dumps a Svengali like Perlman.
Those who expect the same sweet dance pop and harmonies from the past in 'Never Gone' better pray (or not pray) for an 'NSYNC reunion. 'Never Gone' is a complete 180 degrees from past material, which was filled with manufactured dance beats, singing, dance moves, and heck, the whole thing was manufactured. The album ditches the whole manufactured act and strips down the five men to who they are and what they can do. And you know what? They actually sound good with the gloss all taken away. Instead of dance beats and synthesizers, it's two guitars, an electric bass, a drumset, a grand piano (which Kevin Richardson takes credit for in the credits), and another piano synthesizer. The material in the album is very much more mature, more adult pop/rock than teen dance pop. So instead of 'Quit Playing Games With My Heart,' it's about writing letters to a GI in the John Ondrasik (of Five for Fighting fame)-penned 'Weird World.' It's about the trials and tribulations of long-distance love in "I Still." The two best songs in the whole album has to be the title track and 'Siberia'. 'Never Gone' definitely Christian worship song overtones, I can almost relate it to my own relationship to God and Jesus, it was probably the most powerful song the Boys have ever done. 'Siberia' was very interesting, using the cold, raw, and dark conditions of Siberia and comparing it to a broken heart, I'm sure every single guy and girl can relate to that.
The only song that's closest to the dance pop past of the Boys is 'Poster Girl.' But even that song doesn't have the same feel or atmosphere of any of the past hits they've had. The most complex experiment on the album is 'My Beautiful Woman,' which puts some of their teen pop past and then meshing it under rolling guitar and drum chords. On some level, they probably wanted it and they pull it off quite effectively.
You must wonder why I'm wasting my time with this. I simply was curious. They kept talking about how they have changed and changed their sound. So I had to take a listen to the entire album to see if that was the case and it looks like my preconceptions of what to expect was wrong. I was fully expecting the dance-pop that made them famous. But it appears that they are trying to close the door on their past, a past that saw them controlled by a pop Svengali, who only cared about making money and tons of it. However, the image they crafted in the late 90's won't be gone overnight. If they stay together, I'd like to see what they do for a sixth album. That will finally be their defining album. By that time, we can decide whether or not they've really grown-up. For now, let's just say they are taking the right steps towards becoming musically credible with 'Never Gone.'
In retrospect, Backstreet's back. But not in the way you've either come to love or really, really, really hate.
Album: Something To Be (Listen to full preview
Release date: June 14, 2005
Artist/Band: Backstreet Boys
Label: Jive/Zomba Recording Group
Producer(s): John Ondrasik, Lukasz Gottwald, Mark Taylor, Max Martin
Overall review: 'Never Gone' could potentially turn away a lot of the old fanbase, much like how John Mayer managed to kick out former boy band lovers when he turned out 'Heavier Things.' The album is more adult rock/pop than teen pop. A few songs will definitely cross the Top 40, AC 30, and Hot AC 40 on Musiqtone's Rating the Music. The five men, Brian, Nick, Howie, Kevin, and AJ obviously have gained musical insight in the four, five years since 'Black and Blue,' which actually was their first post-Lou Perlman album. But we know that change doesn't happen overnight. 'Never Gone' can be construed as them making efforts to change themselves, to make themselves credible not with teen girls all over the country. They don't want that, they already do.
This album could turn out to be one of the more pleasant surprises in 2005. On a scale from 1-5, I give this a 3.9. I think it's a huge step ahead for them in terms of getting some respect from some of us here covering music, but I'd like to see what they'd do for a sixth album. Then, we can decide and validate their progress.
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-Review written by Alan Ho. You can give him feedback to this review at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Ho is a student at Purdue University, where he majors in OLS. He is also the founder and chief head of Musiqtone.
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