I’m going to take a break from my usual K-pop reviews to write about the boyband that, in fact, set the modern-day trend for boybands everywhere. Backstreet Boys weren’t the first boyband in showbiz, but they were the world’s biggest as far as success went, and still the best selling boyband of all time!
But first, my history with Backstreet Boys.
The first time I read about the Backstreet Boys was back in the December 1994 issue of Live & Kicking magazine. I now wish I had kept the issue safe, since it was supposedly their first interview to a British magazine. In the issue, L&K were attending one of Backstreet Boys’ showcase performance at some American mall. It was in 1995 I heard their first single on radio, “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” — which only just managed to crack the UK top 40. Followed by “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” which too lurked out around the 30s on the UK charts.
It wasn’t until 1996 when “Get Down” broke in to the UK top 20, and I remember seeing the Backstreet Boys for the first time on Top of The Pops. That was followed by “Anywhere For You” and the group’s breakout hit single, “Quit Playing Games”. After that, Backstreet Boys re-released “We Got It Goin’ On” and “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” in the UK to better success. By now, Backstreet Boys were one of the best boybands in my school-going world.
Then came 1997. Oh-my-god. ‘Backstreet’s Back‘ was released. That summer of 1997 was particularly exciting for me. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and “As Long As You Love Me” were unstoppable on radio and the videos were equally popular on Channel [V], which was a music channel worth watching back in the day. I returned after the summer holidays of ’97 to a school where practically everyone had either of two string backpacks: Backstreet Boys or Titanic. It was that year when girls were going gaga over Leonardo DiCaprio and everyone else was dancing or listening to the Backstreet Boys. Practically every friend of mine owned a copy of ‘Backstreet’s Back‘.
Then the boys made it big in their home country and lead the wave of the teen pop craze that followed. Even though I turned into a ‘N Sync fanboy, I never disliked Backstreet Boys. The singles off ‘Millennium‘ were exciting, but I thought the rest of the album was “meh”. I liked ‘Black & Blue‘ more as a album.
It was inevitable the group would peak. It was insane watching just how massive Backstreet Boys had become. The boys put out a greatest hits album in 2001 and took a much deserved break. Nick Carter’s solo album had a few good songs I liked. Heck, I even liked Brian Littrell’s Christian pop single.
Backstreet Boys made a come back in 2005 with the pop-rock oriented ‘Never Gone,‘ which was okay. Kevin Richardson, the group’s oldest member, left Backstreet Boys in 2006 to focus on family. ‘Unbreakable‘ was the first album Backstreet Boys released as a four-piece. I actually quite liked the album a lot, but sadly, if there was one big fault with that album, it was that it lacked a great single.
2009 saw ‘This Is Us,‘ which up until then, was their best album since ‘Black & Blue’ (in my opinion). “Straight Through My Heart” (produced by RedOne) and “Bigger” (by the genius Max Martin) were very good singles! But thanks to their label’s disinterest in promoting the album, ‘This Is Us‘ made little-to-no impact on the charts.
When the NKOTBSB tour was announced, I took that as a sign the Backstreet Boys’ career was nearing its end. What was next? A Las Vegas stint? :-/
But no, not only did they announce they were going to release a new album, but Kevin Richardson would make a comeback and the Backstreet Boys would be five again! I was even happier when they announced Max Martin would be contributing a song as well!
Here’s a track-by-track review:
01. “In a World Like This”
Given how busy Max Martin is, and given where BSB stand in today’s musical times, I wasn’t expecting the famed Swedish producer to give the boys (he made big) the best song in Max’s collection. This is business after all. That said, it was still good to see the production credits of Max Martin, Kristian Lundin and Savan Kotecha attached to this album. It took me a few listens, but I soon realized why this is a perfect song for the Backstreet Boys.
For a group that has always tried to impress people with their vocal harmony, “In A World Like This” is the song worth singing. The chorus more than the verses. On repeat listens, I found myself (trying to) sing my heart out to the chorus, especially towards the end. I feel the other reason why the guys chose “In A World Like This” for a single (and why Max gave them the song) is so that Backstreet Boys could aim for a shot at next year’s Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Performance. Despite all their multi-platinum success, if there’s one thing that’s alluded BSB, it’s a Grammy award win. (They have been nominated before)
“In A World Like This” is a song that can easily find its place on mainstream radio today. With 1D, The Wanted and many other teen pop acts working with the same producers*, this powerful, chorus-driven pop anthem is worthy enough to chart in the top 10. I just hope it does. – 4/5
02. “Permanent Stain” – Produced by Morgan Taylor Reid (who also worked on four other songs on the album), this uptempo track is already a fan-favourite. Although the group put it up online in its entirety even before the album was released, I still feel “P.S.” is single-worthy come holiday season. It does sound a bit Christmas-y, doesn’t it? – 4/5
03. “Breathe” – This is probably the first time I’ve heard Kevin Richardson getting the privilege of opening a BSB track. And it’s perfect. This is a soft, beautiful track written by four of the members and produced by Martin Terefe — who also produced four other tracks on the album. – 4/5
04. “Madeleine” – A purely acoustic recording. This ballad was inspired by a young BSB fan (not named Madeleine) who committed suicide after being bullied for being gay. It’s a motivational message to every troubled teen out there in need of upliftment in their lives. – 4/5
05. “Show ’em What You’re Made Of” – Co-written by Kevin Richardson and AJ McLean this power ballad is an ode to their children. A song of encouragement and hope. I can totally see a moment for this song to be covered on Glee. Fingers crossed 🙂 – 4/5
06. “Make Believe” – Written by Howie, Nick, Kevin, and Dan Muckala, this was another track that got my attention upon first listen itself. It’s got a great vibe. Hauntingly beautiful. – 4/5
07. “Try” – Essentially a solo track by AJ McLean, this track was co-written by British singer James Morrison. And you can totally sense his style on this track. It’s a groovy, R&B acoustic ballad that also reminded me of similar records made by Babyface in the 1990s. – 3.5/5
08. “Trust Me” – Another acoustic, organic song fit for a sing-along. – 3/5
09. “Love Somebody” – Nothing special worth mentioning about this track. I’m not really feeling the lyrics, but it’s another good pop song. – 3/5
10. “One Phone Call” – Brian’s wavering voice begins the track, and then AJ’s powerful vocals takes it to the exploding chorus. Even towards the end of the playlist, the songs remain just as good. – 3.5/5
11. “Feels Like Home” – Even when I heard the album teaser, this was the one track that sounded a bit “meh”. Until the chorus came along. Then all was forgiven! – 3/5
12. “Soldier” – The final track on the album is still a winner in my opinion. It’s got a chorus I liked even when they first teased the song at a fan meet. – 3.5/5
My only concern with this record is hearing Brian struggle with singing low-notes (especially live). He was one of the best singers in the group, but the ones leading vocals on Backstreet Boys today are AJ and Nick Carter. I particularly observed Brian’s vocals when I was privileged enough to see the group perform (quite close) as a four-piece during their Bangalore concert back in 2010.
Still, I can safely say the
boysmen of Backstreet Boys have done a brilliant job with ‘In A World Like This‘. This is now easily my favourite Backstreet Boys album since ‘Black & Blue‘ (sorry ‘This Is Us‘). The song selection at large and their production values define the whole mature vibe of the album. The fact that the members co-wrote pretty much every track on the album also deserves much praise. It shows how much the Backstreet Boys have grown as artists. The album is very personal, modern enough, without the guys having to try too hard to sound like the shit you hear on radio these days.
Pretty much every song on the album is listenable. But I would have liked a bombastic second single after “In a World Like This” on par with their ’90s releases. It’s a tough challenge, I know, given just how great Backstreet Boys singles were back in their heyday. In fact, Max Martin himself questioned how he could top “I Want It That Way”. He can’t. Still, it will be interesting to see which single gets a video next.
I hope ‘In A World Like This‘ does well on the charts, because given the music market these days, that can be a problem in the US. It does appear BSB’s strongest fanbase presently is now in Latin America. Or maybe it’s because they are just more vocal online.
I won’t end my review by saying “Backstreet’s Back, alright!” — because I know for a fact they were never gone (get it?). All I’m going to do is buy the album when its released in India and encourage everyone else to do the same. I hope I get to see Backstreet Boys again in concert, and meet them in person sometime in the future. Back in 2010, I wrote down a list of great questions I wanted to ask them but I was denied an interview (I used to work AOL India back then). I’d still love to interview the members some day for my website.
Backstreet Boys were an indispensable part of my childhood. I can’t imagine my musical journey growing up without mentioning them. So to the members: congratulations, thanks for the memories and here’s to another 20 years of great music! I’ll keep the KTBSPA^ and will continue to support the group as I have no shame in admitting I’m a BSB fan, despite being a 31-year-old male at present.
My final rating for Backstreet Boys’ ‘In A World Like This‘: 4 out of 5 (Very Good)
*Yes kids. Max Martin, Rami Yacoub, Kristen Lundin and a few other collaborators made their careers with acts like Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears and the like. So don’t go around saying “Wuh, these Backstreet Boys are trying to copy One Direction’s sound!” Nope, it’s the other way around.
Here’s a lesson I made last year on Max Martin’s impact on pop music:
^Keep The Backstreet Boys Pride Alive
NOTE: The album was reviewed after listening to the tracks that were revealed online one-by-one by the group themselves as per their promotional schedule.