Note for NoteDid you know that the Backstreets Boys turned 20 this year?

Did you also know they released a brand new album this week?

No worries, like everyone else I had no idea either. And like everyone else I didn’t care either … or did I?

When our weekly “Upcoming Releases” email went out last week I noticed BSB and thought I would take a chance at reviewing the upcoming album. After all – and this is where we break into confession time. I’m going to ask you to not judge my prior work, or work thereafter, on this one column. Pretty please, with Bubblegum Pop on top! – I still own four of their albums (Backstreet BoysMillenniumBlack & Blue and The Hits: Chapter One. Still waiting for Chapter Two…and waiting, and waiting) and thought why not take a stroll down memory lane by listening to the new album.

That’s right! Backstreet’s back all right! Kevin Richardson has rejoined the group (yeah, didn’t realize he had left either), the quintet has released a new album with new music and yes, they are celebrating their 20th anniversary as a group (though their first US album debuted in 1997).

I still remember the first time I heard the Backstreet Boys. It was 1998 and I was jamming out to “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” on the MTV Party to Go ’98 compilation. The song was catchy, and it mixed perfectly into “Snoop’s Upside Ya Head“.

Yes, from 1998 to 2001 I was a Backstreet Boy fan.

I’m still not sure why. Their lyrics weren’t inspiring, they didn’t tug at my heartstrings, they didn’t get me onto the dance floor, I couldn’t drive down Main Street with my windows down bumping it (or at least not feel good about myself whilst cruising), I wasn’t a teenager (I was 21-24 for crying out loud!) and I was a heterosexual (oh still am, married with three kids on my resume, if that means anything).

So why did I listen to their music and why do I still hold onto their albums?

I think of it the same way I think of the sitcom Saved by the Bell (by the way No. 78 on our top 100 sitcoms of all-time). It’s catchy. It’s addicting. It’s fun. It’s cheesy. It’s somewhat uplifting. It’s fun to poke fun of. It grew on me! And sometimes chicks digged that you dug BSB, or sometimes you just got laughed at. Unfortunately I married the latter.

Give BSB credit! They brought back the “Boy Band”, and somewhat led the charge in the change of the music industry (and the demise of my beloved well-written 90’s slow jams). Oh and before you mention the R&B groups of said 90’s, like my Boyz II Men, let me jump on my mini-soap box and say that Boyz II Men is NOT a “Boy Band”. They were not marketed toward your teeny-bopper. Their music was by adults, for adults. Listen to a BSB tune, there’s no candlelight, there’s no cries of come back. Heck, does anyone even understand what the Backstreet Boys are crooning about in “I Want it That Way”? Not really, but again it’s hella catchy!

Instead of just putting together a mini-review of their eighth (say what?!) US album (The Hits: Chapter One included) I thought I would reminisce a bit by writing a mini-Note-for-Note on the Backstreets Boys, complete with a review for the recently released In a World Like This.

Backstreet Boys (1997) – After releasing a self-titled album in Europe, the Boys from Orlando (well, most of them) finally allowed their US fans a chance to buy their album. What a great marketing idea! Build them up overseas and release them on the crazed Americans! The album featured hits like “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”, “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)”, “I’ll Never Break Your Heart”, “As Long As You Love Me” and “All I Have to Give”. The success of this album paved the way for numerous “Boy Band” copycats like ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees and more.

Grade: B

Millennium (1999) – By now the Boys were competing with ‘N Sync and Britney Spears for the Kings of Bubblegum Pop! Millennium sold 1.1 million copies in its first week of release and 30 million copies worldwide. It featured the megahit “I Want It That Way”, along with “Larger Than Life”, “The One”, and “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely”. My favorites, yes I had them, were the mixtape eligible “Back to Your Heart”, “Don’t Want to Lose You Now“, “Spanish Eyes” and the Nick Carter solo, “I Need You Tonight”. Still love throwing on this CD, especially on sunny days, and reminiscing.

Grade: A-

Black & Blue (2000) – The hits kept coming for the Boys as Black & Blue sold 24 million copies and featured the hit ballads “More Than That” and “Shape of My Heart“, and the cheating jam “The Call”, which became the theme song for my buddy. Unfortunately for BSB it came in the shadows of ‘N Sync’s No Strings Attached, and wound up being the last time we heard a new album from the Boys for five years. Which for a “Boy Band” is a very, very long time. I mean your average fan base goes from 13-18 (or in my case 23-28, I wasn’t having that anymore).

Grade: B

It was in between this time that my brother, Randy, our friend, Wes, and myself decided we’d take in a Backstreet Boys concert. Yes, three dudes headed to a concert littered with crying teenage girls and what we’d now call, their Cougar moms.

We had three tickets in the nosebleed section, but after showing up early to pre-funk (walking around all the radio station booths and scoring free stickers), we noticed one of the stations giving away two front row tickets for Say What? Karaoke. Meaning you compete by singing a BSB song chosen at random, against a bunch of girls that want to be even closer to Generation Y’s version of the Fab Five.

We all entered the drawing, and thankfully Wes’s name was drawn. We were gifted “All I Have to Give”, nailed it with some very bad vocals, and took home two front row tickets, as “The Wes Westbrook’s and Friends”.

After fighting off a few crying 14-year-old’s that wanted to trade their camera for the two tickets – no joke – we decided we would attempt to trade our five tickets (the three nosebleeds, and the two front rows, for those of you counting at home) for something decent. We found a scalper, I coaxed him into taking all five from me in a trade for three third row tickets, using my fantasy basketball bargaining skills by saying something like, “Let’s say these two front row tickets are Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan…”

So there we were, three twentysomething dudes in the third row of a BSB concert. Go figure that the two empty seats next to us are then occupied by two more dudes, one wearing the same friggin’ shirt I was wearing. So make that five dudes in a row, in the third row! We looked like wannabe-BSBers, except that the dude next to me was actually buddies with K-Rich and at intermission he and his friend scored a trip backstage with the group. So lucky!

Told you we were third row!

Told you we were third row!

Let’s move on shall we?

The Hits: Chapter One (2001) – Seems odd to come up with a Greatest Hits album when you’ve made three albums in four years, but when everything you release becomes Platinum within a week then you might as well. Guess, the group felt they weren’t ready to release the compilation but the record company ultimately won out. The Hits: Chapter One featured a new single, “Drowning”, which did the opposite on the hit charts. Meaning it was another BSB hit.

Grade: B+

Never Gone
(2005) – “Incomplete” was the lone hit from this album, and really is still one of the best singles from their entire catalog. Never Gone is by far their most mature album, vocally – and dare I admit lyrically. It’s also their only album with live instruments. Funny how that happens. Actually after doing some “research” for this column, and after my third listen through, I’m really digging this album and other than the fond memories of Millennium, this is probably their best album material-wise.

Grade: B+

Unbreakable (2007) – BSB’s first album as a quartet. Who would’ve thought Kevin Richardson was such a key member of the group? The dude had about four verses in the first four albums, but word has it (or Wikipedia) that he was an integral part of the team. The glue that stuck them all together, or kept them all in check. Unbreakable  suffers greatly, and ditching Max Martin (the uber-hitmaker for BSB, N’Sync, Britney and most recently Taylor Swift) probably wasn’t a great idea.

Grade: C-

Like a fart tumbleweed, the Backstreet Boys quickly drifted a way from me. I had moved on. It had been six years since I thought of them. I didn’t purchase, borrow or pirate Never Gone or Unbreakable. Didn’t want to, never cared to. Actually, didn’t realize they released them. They ended up becoming more of a joke to me, “Remember that time we won front row tickets to BSB? That was so cool lame!” It was 2008, I was 30 now, it was time to grow up, so I started to listen to grown up music like Justin Timberlake and Akon (Konvict!).

Until the charity event that I help organize decided they would have a lip sync competition. Randy, Wes and I wrestled with what we were going to do. We decided to go back to our roots, recruited my other brother, Erik and my good buddy from high school and this is what we came up with in three hours of practice. We may have taken first place, just sayin’!

This Is Us (2009) – If you wanted to make a hit in 2009, you needed T-Pain. So BSB brought in T-Pain for the cheesy “She’s a Dream” single. Though an improvement from Unbreakable, the album still suffers without Richardson, though they did bring back Martin and for songwriting duties.

Grade: C

In a World Like This (2013) – The title track, and the lead-off single, “Permanent Stain” are classic BSB, I found myself singing “In a World Like This” days after my first listen, just the way I did with the tracks from Millennium. The third track from the album, “Breathe”is one of their better ballads – EVER!

Then there are the singles “Madeleine”, “Try” and “Trust Me” that just sound like wannabe Jason Mraz tunes. No surprise after learning that Martin Terefe was the producer on all three, and is a key producer for Mraz.

“Feels Like Home” feels more like a bad attempt at country and the lyrics from “Love Somebody” are just horrible, not that lyrics were ever a strength for the group but still, “You’re the reason that cavemen drew on the wall, the reason why after every summer we fall” followed later by my favorite, “When the games on, you wear the jersey of my favorite team. Yell at the TV, knock over your beer, you’re not even mad at me. You know I love you baby! (insert old school video game sound / attempt to sound like David Guetta mixed this jam)”.

I find it hard that the 12-year-old girls that spent all of their allowance on BSB music, concerts, posters and other silly memorabilia are going to run out as 27-year-olds and buy their new CD. To me they were just a fad, but then again Abercrombie & Fitch is still worn so you never know.

Grade: B-

Are you a closet BSB fan? If so, let us know what you think of the new album, or past albums for that matter!

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