The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Familiar sound for Backstreet

     Never Gone. It’s a fitting album title for a group commonly considered a ’90s boy band destined to fade as their fickle fans matured.

     But with their newest release, the Backstreet Boys prove that their musical talents spread far beyond the realm of the typical boy band.

     Glimpses of the group’s personal growth over the past few years can be found running throughout the Never Gone album, most noticeable in A.J. McLean’s vocals. McLean, who struggled with depression and alcohol addiction, has since become sober. In Backstreet’s previous release Black and Blue, McLean’s voice was raspy and strained. But sobriety has given McLean a cleaner, purer sound, one that meshes well into the group’s melodies.

     In Never Gone, the Backstreet sound has been retailored to reflect more of the boys’ adult ideals and life experiences. In their almost five-year break from the music business, Brian Littrell became the first Backstreet father. Kevin Richardson starred on Broadway and Nick Carter released a solo album, Now or Never. Howie Dorough continued his work with the Dorough Lupus Foundation after the loss of his oldest sister Caroline in 1998.

     Not straying far from their roots, the boys still sing about love in all its forms, but use slightly less sappy lyrics to appeal to a more mature audience.

     “It’s more organic, with more live instruments, and a nice departure for us,” McLean said. “If we kept on doing what we used to do, people wouldn’t care anymore. We had to step ahead of ourselves.”

     The overall style of the album is mostly adult contemporary. In achieving a more mature sound, the Never Gone tracks are more mellow than upbeat. Yet the signature Backstreet sound is unmistakable. The album’s first single “Incomplete” sounds similar to the group’s hit “Drowning,” while the catchy, upbeat “Beautiful Woman” is reminiscent of the group’s earlier hit “The Call.”

     The fast paced, edgier track “Poster Girl” is the closest the group sways from its usual style. Also noticeably different from the music on Millennium is “Weird World,” a soft-rock song written by Five For Fighting’s John Ondrasik.“Weird World” examines life in society post Sept. 11.

     “I just think it really speaks to what’s going on in the world today,” Richardson said of “Weird World.” “The first line of the song talks about the sun over the city but it’s an orange day. It’s a play on words with the fact that, since Sept. 11, we’ve been dealing with orange terrorist alerts, and, to me, I feel that it’s very relevant for our time right now.”

     Other tracks more closely resemble the Backstreet music of old. The chorus of “Just Want You to Know” radiates with the harmonies that made the group a success. “Crawling Back to You” also includes the blends of voices typical of the Backstreet sound. The similarity to previous songs is no coincidence; producer Max Martin, who manufactured many successful pop songs including Backstreet’s “I Want It That Way” collaborated on four of the 12 the Never Gone tracks, including “Siberia,” the melodic “Climbing the Walls,” and the feel-good song“I Still.”

     A lyrically sweet and simplistic song about devotion, “Safest Place to Hide” is the sweetest love song on the album, comparable to Backstreet hit “I’ll Never Break Your Heart.” It also showcases the underappreciated and underused vocals of Richardson, who sings mostly harmonies throughout the album. The album’s title track, “Never Gone,” is a hauntingly emotional ballad co-written by Richardson in tribute to his father, who died of cancer in 1991.

     “That song has really been important to each one of us,” McLean said of ‘Never Gone.’ “In addition to the loss of Kevin’s father, I lost both of my grandparents, Nick his grandmother and Howie his sister. We’ve all experienced great losses, so this song really touches us personally.”

     If you were never a fan of the Backstreet Boys before, chances are you will not enjoy their latest album. But if you are a nostalgic ’90s pop fan longing to hear more of the sweet harmonies that characterized the boy band era, this is the album for you.

     And for any Backstreet fan, the album is definitely worth the wait.

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