Saturday, October 10, 2009

Album Review: Backstreet Boys

Following their last successful album, Black and Blue, the Backstreet Boys released a string of rather unsuccessful albums, here's to their seventh release will be a turnaround. Here's a look at their last three albums:

Never Gone, 2005 (2/5)
Over the last couple years, Boybands haven't been as popular as they were--like when the Backstreet Boys were dominating the charts back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the wake of a new teen-era, the Backstreet Boys were probably the first to capitalize on the movement from grunge-rock, hip-hop and R&B that dominated the mid '90s. Their first two albums, Backstreet Boys and Backstreet's Back, collectively spawned the eight worldwide number-one hits, "We've Got it Goin' On," "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)," "Anywhere for You," "As Long as You Love Me," "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," "I'll Never Break Your Heart" and "All I Have to Give," solidifying their status' as teenage heart-throbs.

But the boys didn't succumbed to international success and recognition until the release of their pop masterpiece, third album, Millennium, which sold a staggering 40 million copies worldwide (moving 2.2 million units in its first week internationally) and spawning the monster smash "I Want it That Way," which broke the record for most radio additions within a week, nabbing 165 and reaching #1 in 11 countries, follow up single "Larger Than Life" was also a smash (the video was awesome). Their follow up album, Back & Blue, didn't spawn as many hits as Millennium--"Shape of My Heart" became a top 10 hit in the UK & US--but it did sell just as well, making the band the first to score back to back first week million sellers, eventually moving up to 24 million worldwide.

With mainstream music taking yet another turn, the Backstreet Boys hasn't managed to stabilize throughout this decade. Their first release since Black & Blue was 2005s, Never Gone, a seamless attempt to return current, that didn't quite work. It's definitely my least favorite of the band's work. Unlike their first four albums, it was largely uninteresting, mostly running on the weak combination of light pop, rock & gushes of urban-pop and the lack of originality. The opening Coldplay-ish track "Incomplete" isn't bad. It's a dramatic--mostly piano and string induced number, I remember singing this a lot. It became a top 10 hit in the UK.

"I Still..." is pretty good too, and so is the urban-pop dosed sounding "Poster Girl" which has a nice bounce to it, with the bass and the strings, it really works well and the last of the good is the stripped down acoustic ballad, "Siberia." The rest is just bland pop music that could've had the potential to be reworked into something more different and interesting, rather than the same retreads that mostly take up the bulk of the album, for example, I can't find much distinguishing between, "Crawling Back to You," "Weird World," "Lose it All," and "Climbing the Wall," all mostly light pop/rock, string and drum endeavors with the same sounding chorus.

Best tracks: Incomplete, I Still, Poster Girl, Siberia.

Unbreakable, 2007 (3/5)
The band's follow up album, Unbreakable, was an improvement, but still not a knockout--but I still do enjoy listening to it extensively. The opening track, "Everything But Mine" is a fantastic, electronically intertwined pop groove, that found the band at their best in a very long while. The chorus is brilliant, fresh and memorable--something that the tracks from Never Gone lacked greatly. Next up is the single, "Inconsolable" a string and drum affair, that still has a soulful kick in it, dismissing all signs of blandness.

Unbreakable was one of those albums that when its on point it can be wonderful and the points where it doesn't quite click and bring the whole thing down considerable and with a 16 track set--this was probably unavoidable. "One in a Million" is the albums best track. Backed with a trimming recurring hand-clap and funky guitar. It should've been the sound Never Gone had gone for. The fresh electronic beats in "Any Other Way" make it a notable moment. I also love the orchestration behind too--mostly fueled with violins. Piano laced ballad "Unsuspecting Sunday Afternoon" is another knockout.

Unbreakable definitely managed to recuperate some of the classic Backstreet Boys mojo, delivering a handful of great tracks, but still wasn't perfect. Now we have the band's seventh album, This is Us, and giving it a close and fair listen-through I can say it's their sharpest album since, Black & Blue. Obviously teaming back up with pop genius, Max Martin--who struck gold with their earlier hits, was exactly what they needed.

Best tracks: Inconsolable, One in a Million, Any Other Way, Unsuspecting Sunday Afternoon

This is Us, 2009 (4/5)
The group's seventh album, This is Us, is more interesting and consistent than Never Gone and more charismatic than Unbreakable, easily making it their best effort in a while. Opening the album is the fantastic RedOne produced lead single "Straight Through My Heart," who's also responsible for producing Lady GaGa's hits "Just Dance" & "Poker Face." It's catchy, uptempo, melodic and crisp. What more can you ask for? Following rather swiftly is "Bigger," which supports a more pondering subdued beat.

"Bye Bye Love," channels Chris Brown's "Forever," without completely cloning its pop glory, it's slightly more dancey. "All of Your Life (You Need Love)," keeps the consistency going--It's a brilliant dance-pop saturated number. A glorious dancefloor filler. You can spot some urban influences on the next three tracks. The synth lines and 808 machine backed "If I Knew Then" the title track "This is Us," begins to slow down the album, in a good way. I like the piano that angelically laces the song together and gleaming urban beat and the stomping retro bassline of "PDA."

The last couple tracks aren't as good as the ones before, but still very enjoyable. "Masquerade," has a glistening ambiance to it, especially in the chorus. The verses depicts some harsh vocal work, which surprisingly sound really good. "She's A Dream," is a cute, R&B number, backed with recurring clicks (like Mariah Carey's "Candy Bling"). Last two tracks, "Shattered" and "Undone" are my least favorite of the album, their pretty missable but after such a fulfilling ride, does it really matter.

The Backstreet Boys have come a long way, their not as cool as they use to be and they most likely will never have another, Millennium, (the sales for This is Us aren't looking too good) but after more than 10 years into their career, it's evident to see when they want to they can churn out a thrilling pop album. Never Gone indeed.

Best tracks: Straight Through My Heart, Bigger, Bye Bye Love, All of Your Love (You Need Love), PDA, She's A Dream, If I Knew Then


rcLoy said...

WOW! *salute*
This is one comprehensive review of the boys albums! Love it. Gotta agree with you on most parts. Unbreakable is definitely better than Nevergone and I actually heard them perform live during the Unbreakable tour in KL. They sound fabulously great live! No kidding. Unmistakable and Unsuspecting Sunday Afternoon is brilliant. Heck. I love the whole album. LOL.
It's actually very sad to hear that This Is Us is not doing so great since it's a very promising and solid pop album. IMO, the 1st 6 tracks is really cohesive together where This Is Us and Bigger are few of my faves track together with the 1st single. I'm still bummed that All In My Head is not included in the album. =/ As much as I love their effort to go into the R&B genre, slow power ballad is always their strongest suite. An amazing pop vocal group minus Nick, I don't really fancy his voice that much. AJ, Howie and Brian should do all the singing. LOL~ Whew.
Can I ask what's your faves BSB track? Mine's gotta be All I Have To Give. I'm a sucker for boyband pop. =P

ww_adh said...

I haven't really been interested in Backstreet Boys The Second Coming. Except for "Incomplete," none of the singles have been very good. Back in the day, however, I was a big fan. I bought the "Quit Playing Games" single before it was a hit and loved it. "I Want It That Way" was such a classic pop song.

J.Mensah said...

Ahh Loy, I've missed our Backstreet Boys conversations =]. WOW, you've seen them live, lucky you! I would imagine they would sound great. I think I like Unbreakable more than I say I do--"Unmistakable" is pretty good too. I found out "All in My Head" from you lol, I'm pretty bummed it's not on the album too. My favorite has to be "As Long As You Love Me," it's just brilliant pop.

J.Mensah said...

ww_adh, I agree The "second coming" of the Backstreet Boys have been somewhat lackluster, but still this new album is pretty good. "Quit Playing Games" is such an awesome song, it seems so acient to me. As always "Want it that Way" is just an ultimate classic.

rcLoy said...

I remembered watching the video for Quit Playing Games and don't really understand what is the deal with semi naked men dancing on the rain at back then. Now, I do. LOL. I use to repeat the Backstreet Boys, Backstreet Back, Millennium and Black & Blue album nonstop on cassette and CD back then. Ahh. The memories. XD
J! You seriously have to listen to them live! I saw them twice. Once for the Tsunami relief effort concert (Kevin is there) and one for their World Tour. Both is excellent. They are amazing live. Shape of My Heart (Rock Remix) is fantabulous!
Oh, ww_adh! Dude, do give the new album a chance, I would totally love to know what you think about it! =)

F said...

hey!i also gave This Is Us 4/5 star

(which u can read in my blog)

i think this is one great album!

way much better than the previous 2


Paul said...

can't believe i didn't comment on this! I'm not a huge fan of the album but i will agree that bigger, bye bye love and straight through the heart are great pop tunes!