I had to chuckle a little at the thought of writing this album review. Has anyone really kept up with the Backstreet Boys over the past decade?
In case you are wondering what the Backstreets have been up to since 1999, there are actually some highlights worth mentioning. Now in their thirties and early forties, almost all have become dads and earlier this year celebrated their twentieth anniversary as a group, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Kevin Richardson, Nick Carter, Howie Donough, Brian Littrell and A.J. McLean have also toured several times since the peak of their fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Thus, having much more life experience than ever before off which to base their lyrics, they’ve come together for the eighth time.
After their mainstream popularity drastically declined in recent years, it certainly demonstrates their commitment to be taken seriously as artists. “In A World Like This” is a failed attempt to retain their boyish charm. Though this album is more “personal,” as Richardson described it in a recent interview, it is far from their best.
Beginning with the title track, the album is a mere collection of bland love songs and the group sounds just as boy band-y as they did fifteen years ago — with many of the same corny harmonies, the same meaningless and forgettable lyrics. They are clearly talented vocalists, but their lyrics have no depth and sound quite similar to those of “High School Musical,” which can only be bad.
Each song sounds like the next, and there is no standout lead vocalist among them all. “Permanent Stain,” the album’s lead single, lacks originality and sounds very similar, in musical and lyrical composition, to many of their past singles, such as 2005’s “Incomplete.” Yet it lacks the catchiness of a typical pop chart-topper. In unison the ‘boys,’ belt “No one else can teach me how to love again/ ‘Cause you left a permanent stain on my heart/ And I’ve been feelin’ it,” and it all sounds so familiar and commonplace that it is almost insincere. Can’t they come up with something better?
At their age, the Backstreet Boys simply lack the charm and poise of our hot British friends One Direction. The words ‘heart’ and ‘girl’ appear all too frequently throughout “In A World Like This,” which just does not work for artists in their forties and married with children.
In keeping with Richardson’s promise of a more “personal” record unique to their experiences as a group, “Feels Like Home” details their touring travels, as they harmonize “I’ve been all around, all around the world/ Every single part, every part of the world/ Touching down in Rio, Monaco, L.A., Tokyo/ Oh, but it all just feels like home.” The only song to make use of an electric guitar, this boppy jingle is a nice relief after ten straight songs of all vocals and acoustics. The sweetly sung “Madeleine,” recalls a fond memory of an early girlfriend, as a guitar gently plays behind a solitary crooner. Yet overall, their personal lives fail to provide any exciting lyrical material.
As the world was reminded with Rihanna’s recent single “Diamonds,” meaningful lyrics can be sacrificed for an addictive beat or phrase to create an instant hit. It doesn’t take much to succeed in pop. Yet almost every song on “In A World Like This” lacks both catchiness and memorable lyrics, resulting in pure mediocrity.
Perhaps the only decent tune on the album is “Try,” a slow, soulful composition complete with jazzy chords and rhythms to snap your fingers to. A touch of organ at the end and light instrumentation throughout make this song worth finishing. Yet by the time this song comes up on the album, most pop fans will have stopped listening.
Justin Timberlake has clearly had the last laugh. A contemporary of the Backstreets and once a part of the boy band scene himself, Timberlake’s work demonstrates several reinventions of his style, consistent with the evolution of popular music over the past decade. He is without a doubt the most popular survivor of the ‘90s boy band era. Perhaps if the Backstreets could have reinvented themselves at this late date, they too could have found greatness with their newest album.
Today, with the exception of the whitewashed One Direction, boy bands are out, and while they can certainly harmonize, the Backstreet Boys cannot seem to produce anything up to speed with today’s pop scene at this mature stage of their career. It is time for these ‘boys’ to musically grow up.
NOT RECOMMENDED: Don’t bother. Backstreet’s not back. Alright?