Some Fantastic Synth Pop Skill Are Wasted On Backstreet Boys’ Comeback Album DNA

camjameson
Written by camjameson
/ 7 mins read

Go ahead & call me old, but I can vividly remember girls singing “Quit Playin’ Games (With My Heart)” & swooning over the different – though actually pretty identical – members of Backstreet Boys as I waited in the cafeteria line back in what was likely 2nd or 3rd grade for my nineties-ass, my friends & I forced to compare ourselves to these seemingly-perfect men from an incredibly early age, a scenario I’m certain influenced my more feminist-leaning ideals as I progressed in life. These guys have been a mainstay in Pop culture ever since, with everyone in my generation holding their particular brand of Bubblegum Pop goodness up as gospel, the differences between them & *NSYNC being the mainstream-equivalent of the West Coast/East Coast battles happening in Hip Hop at the same time; As such, I was genuinely intrigued when they’d announced a new album was dropping at the beginning of 2019, with DNA being their first album in nearly 6 years & the first one anyone actually cared about since 1999’s absolute banger Millennium, feeling like it was about time they’d made their return to the radio, especially considering how stagnant the mainstream Pop market had become in their absence – Well, you can colour me fooled, as this album not only misses the mark by a couple of years in terms of current musical trends but also makes me retroactively hate my youthful obsession with them back in the day, realizing they’ve always been a bit behind the times in comparison to their contemporaries.

Strong Electric Currents Give DNA A Great Start

Before my expectations were utterly shattered upon the full release of DNA, Backstreet Boys pushed out several initial singles to garner attention & hype for their upcoming record debut, hitting us with what were & still are easily the best three tracks on the entire album, a notion that may come back to bite them in the end as they weren’t necessarily the best compositions in the world. The first one to really gain some traction was “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” a track that capitalized on the eighties-inspired New Wave Synth Pop sensibilities that’d taken over the entire music industry from 2014 to 2017, although rather than loosely adhering to the style like LANY or BØRNS do, they push things to the limit with a composition ripped straight out of a Miami Vice outro or an inspiring Teen Drama about overcoming your fears in a new school to become the most popular punk-nerd around – If these analogies aren’t quite doing the trick for ya, I’m essentially saying this track had everything it needed to be a real success, churning out delightfully radiant multi-layered vocal harmonies that proved the aging musicians cstill had their chops, heart-pounding digital dance rhythms that made you wanna freak the whole dancefloor & surprisingly mature lyrics that felt appropriate given how old the group’s members have become. It was a bold step in the right direction, one that promised listeners Backstreet really was back & that everything was going to be alright, but this would prove to be too hard an image to uphold as the rest of the album’s tracks squandered this good faith almost instantaneously, the most damaging culprit being yet-another single that dropped before the album ever even came out…

No Second Chances For Old Men

Whereas “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” showed Backstreet Boys’ willingness to change with the times, albeit with a song that was at times tonally inconsistent & a bit repetitive, their other single “Chances” turned into an absolutely devastating blunder that hurt the group’s image moving forward without them even realizing how much trouble they were in – As a band that formed back in the nineties when sexuality was just starting to become normalized & overbearing masculinity was still seen as a desirable trait in modern music, the group undoubtedly have a few problematic narrative tendencies when it comes to songwriting, placing much of their focus on the whole tall-dark-&-handsome routine that once governed the Teen Pop market; Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite transfer well to this song, as every single singer’s advances feel incredibly rape-y & uncaring, made even worse by the fact this song came out post #metoo movement, making it clear these old heartthrobs are as out of touch with their audiences today as they were back in the day. Everything from the unbalanced recording quality to the forcefully-masculine lyrics are just a bit off-putting, feeling not only like stories these nearly 50-year old performers have no right singing anymore but like anachronistic expressions of love that don’t quite fit in with today’s melodic sensibilities, falling flat amongst an audience that should have received them with open arms; This amateurish production continues on tracks like “Chateau,” “Passionate” & “The Way It Was” that feature so much tinny treble with painfully-soft low-end percussion you’d think it was recorded in someone’s guest bathroom, whilst others like “No Place” feels so incredibly generic you can literally hear the exact piano chord progression, swinging Soft Rock rhythms & celebratory vocal melodies of Charlie Puth & Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.”

Maybe It’s Time To Let The Old Ways Die

As much as I love trashing all the radio-friendly Pop acts of the last decade or so & the simple-minded interests of mainstream audiences, it genuinely saddens me to see a once-legendary act like Backstreet Boys get things so embarrassingly wrong with what should’ve been the majestic revival of their career, but DNA goes above & beyond to prove that every dog has their day & all musicians aren’t created equal. Maybe they just got lucky with their productions tuff back in the nineties, or maybe they cared about the music they were producing a whole lot more when they were at the top of their game, but DNA instills more melancholy in me than it does elation whenever I see it queued up to stream – Thankfully, there’re a handful of solid tunes working as the glue that keeps this record together, tracks like “Nobody Else” that seamlessly integrate the band’s delicate Boy Band sounds into the popular Future Bass ideals of last year, whilst “Breathe” gives a wonderfully soothing, passionate arrangement of Boyz II Men-style acapella R&B harmonies that warm the heart, letting us know they’re not quite dead yet. Still, I can’t help feeling that these one-off tracks aren’t enough to save the album as a whole, its overall sonic vibe so beholden to trends from over two years ago that it’s pretty much impossible for them to appeal to anyone but the most diehard fan from my demographic who still has their first CD sitting in the center console of their car after downloading & burning one of those Ultimate Car Jams mixes for their crush – But hey, maybe this is just a sign that the Backstreet-ers need to move on to a new sound entirely, leaving behind the Boy Band methods they popularized in favour of some truly artistic musicianship in the future.

Chasing The Sounds Of The Mainstream, The Members Of This Boy Band Are Old Hands At Knowing What’s Trending On Album ‘DNA’

taylor
Written by taylor
/ 7 mins read

Save that money and get your tickets for the 2019 Tour, because Backstreet Boys are back! Think I’m playing? This time, it’s really something special to hear – an assessment coming from someone who hated the original Backstreet Boy’s music – as I could never quite adjust to their super manufactured sound. To me, this band, and that time period, was characterized by a style that I’d call Frankenstein Pop. An ill thought-out mad scientist experiment of sounds and arrangements that sounded extremely hodgepodge, and sometimes downright corny, with over emphasized Pop hooks and almost cybernetic sounding dance routine details. Not to be confused with the straight up electro funk of Zapp n Roger, which always made funky sense - these boy band and pop-girl productions really had some of the worst interpretations of Pop-Funk in the business. They tried to take after the increasingly metallic nineties era Pop of Michael Jackson and Prince, yet it always came out wrong, insincere, and overproduced to my ears. And to put a cap on all this, the most famous of the bunch, Backstreet Boys, kept getting compared to the R&B of Boyz II Men? FOH. Sure they had great harmonies, but we’re talking minor versus major league. So, yeah, I was the ‘weirdo’ who just wasn’t buying what the corporate machine was trying to sell me. Even to this day, now that there is a late nineties, early aught resurgence in dance clubs, boy band music is popular, yet not even nostalgia can move me to groove. Which is why I am so surprised to hear one hell of an excellent Pop album from this ancient boy band, as they perfectly dip into mainstream sounds while elevating much of the concepts that trend today. They must have much better cooks in the kitchen this time around, which allow for their true musicianship and technically proficient harmonies to thrive.

With So Much Variety To Enjoy, Where Does One Start?

I ain’t gonna lie – as much trash as I talk, 1999’s “I Want It That Way” is a perfect blend of Pop catchiness and R&B harmonious chops. Confusing as hell lyrics, but I digress. I find that the boys return to this sense of vocal command on an amazingly rendered, pseudo-acapella ballad called “Breathe.” It’s style takes after it’s title, as the listener is completely engulfed in the sound of humanity, intimately involved in this choral, affirmative song about keeping-on-keeping-on no matter what; “when the cold air starts filling up my lungs / when I hate the things that I've become / I breathe, breathe, breathe, oh.” Now this is one hell of an original motivational ballad by today’s standards, dressed in a very romantic sound that is reminiscent of the vocal quality of Shai’s “If I Ever Fall In Love.” The late great George Michael would have been all over this ballad, if he could have cloned himself into a quintet that is. There is no Pop band I know doing this level of acapella, save for the corny beyond belief corporatized music of “Pentatonix.” Backstreet Boys definitely remind me that for a boy band, they were at least closest to approaching Boyz II Men’s sound, however much I detested that fans put the two groups on equal footing. All is forgiven now with this fresh music, not just with this one piece, but many outstanding, inventive joints, such as album headliner “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, which is perfectly timed for the new age – an electro pop venture as exciting as anything Majid Jordan or The Weeknd can produce. The background synth is in the vein of the theme to sci-fi show Stranger Things - and we love this retro sound right now, especially when it is used appropriately. The style is actually bigger and better produced than the slickest productions out there that I’ve heard. Super melancholy romance, with a concussive beat that hits you in the chest, just a bit late, clunky and funky.

Quit Playin’ Games With My Heart Backstreet. Your Music Is So Hip That I Don’t Know What To Think Anymore

The issue becomes categorizing what I concede are tracks of varying excellence, trying to decide the haves from the have nots. Too subjective I would say – besides, I’m not even sure if I could manage to judge in a cascading order. I could take a shot in the dark and say several songs, from the BSB throwback “New Love”, which rears it’s old-fashioned ‘why are they mixing these styles together’ head, is trying, but then, damnit, it starts getting so funky that I have to say this is their style updated correctly – as it includes the funkiest of bass lines, tons of emotional falsetto attitude, and a very danceable beat. And this is me trying to be critical! There’s also the sort of lackluster joints “No Place”, which is such a mediocre, auto-tune-fail, wannabe Country Pop ballad – yet when the harmony kicks in, all is sort of forgiven. I really heard way too much formula and similarity to Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” though. What else kinda sorta sucks? “Ok” is a little too weird and rushed too be enjoyable, as I find the quintet trying to keep-up on delivering swift sing-rap slang that is too outside of their comfort zone, while riding a tribal, almost Afro Pop beat which has equal parts good and not-so-good. But that’s all folks, the myriad other tracks are golden, like the mix of old style and Neo Funk on “Passionate”, a track that would fit right with Marc Ronson, Bruno Mars, and Adam Levine, replete with sleazy horns that motivate much raunchy dancing desire. A breathy synthetic ballad is found in “Is It Just Me”, which, due to it’s simple progression, is just a little less compelling than “Chances”, a The Weeknd inspired snap ballad that turns synthetic in the most refreshing of ways, incorporating some power rock ballad theatrics that are compelling, all the while motoring like a Lamborghini street cruise. The album mood slows down on an affective but bittersweet song “Chateau”, which will definitely get your girl back to you if you press send. The chords are those ‘sorry’ chords, interchangeable with wedding/soulmate type vibrations. I would add here that there was no reason to include the typical Pop ‘wo-ohs.’ Stick with the best parts - the warbling synth chords - the tight beat, and the gorgeous harmonies.

So, I Guess I Gotta Join The Fan Club, Huh?

A classic Soul progression, housed in a super electronic package, persists on more hits, such as “The Way It Was”, which laments over a back and forth relationship that still retains it’s sexual tension. This is hip thrusting back arching groove. Real sweet grinding music, for lack of a better description, yet it never loses it’s boyish charm. I am reminded that Backstreet Boys excel at R&B mixed with Pop vocals, and this is such an example, with a Pop-forward charm being sexualized by late snare hits that crack like whips. Echo and a metallic filtering of the instrumentation makes for a very resonant experience, especially when the guys go to church on the soaring gospel swell. Even with the typical throwback guitar ballad of “Just Like You Like It” I am hopelessly ‘Staning’ by now, entranced by DNA’s 2000 era sweetness mixed with Country-esque, roughed up vocals, admitting that this sappy track is better than about 99 percent of real Country Pop ballads. It’s hard not to join the club when this original boy band is now, officially, the band to beat.

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About

DNA is the ninth studio album by the Backstreet Boys. It was released on January 25, 2019 by RCA Records. The album features tracks written by Lauv, Andy Grammer, and Stuart Crichton. It was preceded by the singles "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", "Chances", "No Place", and will be supported by a world tour, the band's most expansive in 18 years, beginning on May 11, 2019, in Lisbon, Portugal, before visiting North America in July 2019. The album is their first on Sony Music Entertainment since In a World Like This (2013), which was released independently through BMG. It debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, becoming the Backstreet Boys' first number-one album since 2000.
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Songwriter

  • Backstreet Boys

Label

  • K-Bahn
  • RCA

Producer

  • Stuart Crichton
  • Kuk Harrell
  • Jamie Hartman
  • Ryan OG
  • Lauv
  • Steve James
  • Ben Bram
  • Elof Loelv
  • Jake Troth
  • The Stereotypes
  • The Wild
  • Mitch Allan
  • Ian Kirkpatrick
  • Ryan Tedder
  • Zach Skelton
  • Steven Solomon
  • Ross Copperman
  • Josh Kear