One can say this group from Orlando, Florida has gotten the last laugh when it comes to the boy band era of the late 90s. 'NSYNC, 98 Degrees, O-Town have become afterthoughts and Hanson has long ago went indie and as for the Backstreet Boys, they certainly have had the last laugh, long after the boy band era.
They answered questions about the relevancy with 2005's so-called comeback album, 'Never Gone,' which featured a brand-new sound, more adult pop than the teen pop they dominated from 1997-2001. So the question was, what would they do for an encore?
Well that is in the form of the strong follow-up to 'Never Gone', 'Unbreakable' and it was something that almost didn't happen as founding member Kevin Richardson left the group shortly before announcing a follow-up and the new question was how would an encore do without the very person that guided the group through thick & thin?
The question gets answered immediately in the a capella intro to the album, just called 'Intro.' For all their supposed faults, one cannot fault the power when the now four men go without instruments and use their voice. 'Inconsolable' is a song that Kevin would conjure up in the post boy band era with the song being piano-driven, almost seems like send-off song for Kevin as it is highly unlikely that he, now in his late 30s will ever return.
The next two songs, 'Something That I Already Know' and 'Helpless When She Smiles' prove that even without Kevin, there's plenty of lyrics to go around the four although it seems that Howie, despite an increased role still is relegated to a few lyrics here and there. The next three songs combine old-school Backstreet Boys with the dance-floor, uptempo beats with the newfound lyrical sense of the men. 'Any Other Way' has a very hynoptic refrain:
"I can't imagine it any other way/A world without you is only wasted space/You're gone and I'll always wonder/Why it can't be any other way/Any other way"
"One In A Million" and 'Panic" is definitely ones to garner the younger sisters of their now grown-up fans. AJ and Brian dominate the first while 'Panic' seems to be the choice song for Nick.
'You Can Let Go' is the group's attempt at combining the anthemic refrains in anthemic rock with their pop sensibilities and while it worked, it felt like the middle part of the song vaguely ripping off Train's 'Drops of Jupiter.' Not the way to try something new. And finally Howie's voice is featured on 'Trouble Is,' even if it were for about 58 seconds.
The song of interest is the AJ-driven 'Treat Me Right.' The song driven by its hynoptic but teen pop-like beat is accented by its equally silly and ridiculous come-hither lyrics. The stab at attempting the really old-school stuff the boys are trying to run away from would have failed miserably if it weren't for its accompanying beats which kept you from laughing at the ridiculous lyrics that sounded like something from Max Martin's playbook. It's bette they stick to what they're trying to build like the in the next three songs, the strongest trio of songs on the album.
The trio starts with the swelling 'Love Will Keep You Up All Night,' which I would like to hear in acoustic version. The next song is the haunting 'Unmistakable,' which is driven by Brian's mid-range voice in the beginning and its haunting refrain:
"There'll come a day/When you walk out of my dreams/Face to face/Like I'm imagining/Baby how can I be sure/That you're the one I'm waiting for/Will you be/Unmistakable"
The album ends with the best song on the album, 'Unsuspecting Sunday Afternoon,' which is the call-back to 'Intro.' It's subtle dark nature of the song may give a glimpse into what the group may attempt next as they prove that they can adapt to the new order in music. The song, talking of a long-lost love lost again is very moving during Nick's second stanza of the song as the string section accents the slightly dark overtones in its lyrics.
Overall the album is a very strong follow-up but now that Kevin has left and leaves them with four, I would have liked to see a bit more even splitting amongst the four over who sings what lyrics and when. You almost would believe that Kevin's departure benefits Howie more than anyone else but it seems to have benefited Nick more than anyone else. AJ and Brian are still the undisputed defacto leads of the group that really doesn't have a well-defined vocal lead everyone follows but it would be nice to see what Howie can do beyond 58 seconds of 'Trouble Is.' A little more equal facetime would have been good for this album. The one thing is for them to never ever do a song like 'Treat Me Right.' Sure, the beat saved the song but it's ridiculous-by-today's standard lyrics still makes the song rather ludricrous. Such lyrics is from the should-be-dead pen and book of Max Martin.
Otherwise, if 'Never Gone' wasn't about the fact that Backstreet's back....then 'Unbreakable' definitely shows that and also the title shows exactly what these four guys are, indeed unbreakable.
Release Date: October 30, 2007
My rating: 4.7 out of 5
Alan Ho is the chief head of Musiqtone. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org