Review part III: Backstreet’s actually back now, like, for reals guys

Over the last two days, we’ve looked into the glory that is the Backstreet Boys back-catalogue. It has been brilliant, albeit at times disappointing. Today, in our final instalment, we tackle the final four records in the So Far collection from BSB.

Album Six: Never Gone – 2005

‘Scuse me I’ve just died brb

If you’re someone who pays attention to the little details, you’ll have noticed that there was a rather big time jump between Greatest Hits Chapter One and what is unequivocally Nick Carter’s whoops-I-broke-up-with-Hilary-Duff album. (EDIT: Pffffft, okay so it was Aaron who dated Hilary. I think I was thinking of Paris Hilton, and tbh, no one in their right mind would ever write a regretful breakup album about her.) Five years is a long time, especially considering the previous offering was a compilation of stuff that’s already been released. So what was I supposed to expect from the Boys now? Should I cut them some slack if Never Gone was atrocious because of said gap? Or should I raise the bar because they’ve been in the game a long fucking time and should by now know how to produce a decent record? Hmmm…

BSB’s sixth studio album is full of upbeat yet terribly desperate regrets, and pleas for Hilarythe lady in question to please come back because I can’t let you go, which is repeated at least 47,000 times throughout.

Notably, there’s a move from the poptastic to a more adult kind of pop. There are more drums, more electric guitars, and a significant lack of BLAM!’s. It’s not the massive reinvention Madonna thinks is necessary to have every 30 seconds, but it’s enough to show that BSB has grown up a bit.

In any case, the scales tip towards thumbs up, and there are some solid tunes that surprise – I Still has a rousing chorus and gorgeously harmonised verses, and even though I think it’s super strange, Poster Girl is very catchy and one I’d eventually add to a roadtrip playlist. Safest Place To Hide is one of the few songs that sounds like a 90s BSB ballad, but also signals the slow decline in excellence that I’ve come to expect from all Backstreet albums. Bummer.

Album Seven: Unbreakable – 2007

Yeesh. Sorry boys, but Unbreakable proves unequivocally that you can, in fact, be broken. And all it takes is the #SansKev years. Album number seven is the first without Mr Kevin Richardson, and I don’t know if it’s because of that or just a general slump in attitude, but this album kinda sucks. There are maybe three songs I “enjoy”, and then the ones that have promise in the first minute fall spectacularly on the floor. It’s a Super Duper Safe pop album, and is safe in the MOST BORING WAY POSSIBLE.

They look as excited about it’s existence as I felt listening to it. COME BACK KEVIN, COME BAAAACK

Unbreakable doesn’t even bother to continue with the style progression of Never Gone – except maybe for the drums?  – and while I love the poptastic, none of these songs are good as a whole, which makes the style reversion utterly pointless. I honestly don’t even have a single standout track… out of 16 fucking songs.

Album Eight: This Is Us – 2009

Album number two from the #SansKev years is an incredible improvement upon Unbreakable. Standout songs include Straight Through My Heart, Bye Bye Love and Shattered. In fact, the last three tracks of This Is Us are really solid and round out this album well (not sure I’d have featured a rap from Pitbull, but hey, he wasn’t as annoying in 2009, right?) Helpless is a fucking killer track to end on, and probably my favourite song from the #SansKev years.

This Is Us definitely moves into the modern pop scope, and quite a few of the tracks seem to pre-empt the electropop production style that we’ve seen explode in the music scene in recent years. Their lyrics have also stepped up a level – well, they’ve gotten to the mezzanine at least… Where the first five or six albums lived in the same sphere lyrically and thematically, album eight jumps it up a little, which is refreshing.

In general, This Is Us would give a little hope to even the most downtrodden of BSB fangirls.

Album Nine: In A World Like This – 2013

So, in the lead up to experiencing the latest Backstreet Boys record for the first time ever, and as I’ve written these posts, I’ve gone back to the previous eight for repeat listens instead of diving straight in. My trepidation about finally hearing In A World Like This was thanks to seeing a live performance clip of Trust Me. I put a pretty high value on the phrase “you’re only as good as you’re last performance,” and while it cuts me deep to say it, both the song AND performance were abysmal. Even with Kevin back in the crew.

Knowing the Boys wrote and produced this album independently (on their label K-BAHN… lol), the performance dashed my hopes for the new record, and I have been hedging between mild disinterest and terrified for four days. But now it’s time…

Omg yes pls thank you with the suits thank you yes

Okay so the opening two tracks are great; the old reliable BSB harmonies, a catchy groove and lyrics that I don’t hate. While this is still definitely pop music, Backstreet have moved from boyband pop to more adult contemporary pop. It’s totally appropriate considering they’re all in their mid-late 30s, but also a pretty noticeable departure from their last record. In A World Like This is much more Never Again than This Is Us, and also reminds me of that time Hanson transitioned from cute-as-shit pop icons to serious songwriters.

Lyrically, BSB still keep it kiiiiiind of basic, but I’m loving the slow progression from carbon copied lyrics to explorations of something deeper. I would never have said this in the #SansKev years, but the Backstreet Boys are getting better with age, and so long as the second half of this album isn’t a complete clusterfuck, I’ll get onboard.

Alright, Make Believe; I love this song. I love it. But I can’t be the only one who thinks Trust Me is fucking atrocious? WHY DID ANYONE LET THEM RELEASE THIS SONG. I actually have second-hand embarrassment listening because this is worse than Spanish Eyes. Do you think it’s a tactic? Like they’re releasing the worst song on the album so people are surprised and happy with the rest of it? Or is this just sheer dumbassery because they don’t have to answer to anyone else now? I… I actually don’t even know which of those options is worse.

Thankfully it’s the only song I truly dislike, and the last few songs on In A World Like This are quite good. Feels Like Home is pretty average, but Love Somebody and Soldier get a B+/A- each, and in general I’m impressed that a group who wrote very few of their previously recorded songs pulled this baby together. It’s good. It’s actually really good.

And there it is. Over six days I’ve gone from squealing fangirl to… well I’m still squealing a little tbh. But I’m thoroughly connected to my 11 year old self-again, and have discovered music I don’t think I’d ever have ventured to find if not for this blog, the imminent movie, and my office pals. Fanks all.

Finally, after listening to a collective 8.7 hours of Backstreet crooning that spans the last 23 years, here are the findings:

  1. The Greatest Hits album is actually the greatest thing to happen to 90s pop music and if anyone says otherwise they are wrong.
  2. When they get it right, the poptastic BSB is ON. POINT. When they get it wrong? Well, at least the songs are skip-able.
  3. #sansKev =/= BSB
  4. Once a Backstreet Girl, always a Backstreet Girl. Despite some truly awful tunes scattered through the discography, I adore BSB for all time. Soz.

It’s been over a decade since I’ve listened to BSB intentionally and with appreciation, and now I’ve rediscovered true Pop Joytime just in time for their national tour. TIX PLS.

Thanks for the life soundtrack Boys ❤


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