(RCA, out Fri 25 Jan 2019)
It’s starting to feel like backstreet’s been back a few times, with a discography of nine albums over a space of twenty-odd years. But now after their longest break of six years, backstreet is back, again, with an extensive worldwide tour and a new album: DNA.
Nick, AJ, Howie, Kevin and Brian collectively sit as the most successful boyband of all time, with 130 million records sold. Now in their 40s, they are still hanging on to the boyband stamp as this record is stacked with delightfully cheesy vocal ad-libs and cliché-laden choruses – as you would expect from a boyband. But as well, it is more mature and contemporary, with modern producers on-hand to deliver a more dynamic sound – as you would expect from men who’ve just reached middle age.
A perfect example of this mature boyband sound comes in the form of the album opener Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. Falsetto harmonies sit on top of a steady thudding bass drum, with galloping synth sequences and large piano chords, as the group sing of a failing romance. In comparison to the faint and bubblegum production of the past, this is a ferocious difference. In keeping with the new sound, One Republic frontman Ryan Tedder takes writing and producing duties on the track Chances, adding the dark atmospheric feel that he’s known for, while the writing duties are shared with twenty-year-old Shawn Mendes, giving the lyrical content its boyish charm: “Is it love? Is it fate? / Where it leads, who can say? / Maybe you and I were meant to be.”
However, this successful formulation of the adult-boyband sound is absent at times throughout DNA. The album closer OK is god-awful. The off-putting juvenile sound and lyrics bring the record to its cheesy brink: “We fit together, you make me better / Whatever it takes, I’m here forever.” That saying, it would be foolish to expect profound lyrical content from the Backstreet Boys. But like a vegetarian at a bad Italian restaurant: enjoyment can be had, just brace for the inevitable tonne of cheese.