Backstreet's Back (Japanese import version)
Jive Records/Trans-Continental Records
Review by Michael Walker Thorsvedtt
The Backstreet Boys are something of an unique story: five young guys from Orlando, Florida whose first album found amazing success in the United Kingdom and Europe (as well as Japan and Hong Kong to a lesser extent) but which was not even released in the United States. Europeans have long shown an appreciation for boy bands like Take That, Boyzone, and Caught in the Act; an appreciation that Americans just don't seem to have in their collective tastes. This is the best explanation for the lack of interest on Jive Record's behalf in offering those of us in the U.S.A. tasty Backstreet treats.
However, with Backstreet's second full-length album, Jive has decided to release the disc in America as well as for European and Asian markets. Which presents something of a problem: since the first album was not released in the States, the new (second) album is technically their first in America but their sophomore release elsewhere. In any case, the new album is nothing of a disappointment for Backstreet fans is also likely to win new fans for the group.
The Backstreet Boys have become celebrities of sorts within the gay community, as well as the poster pin-ups of pubescent British girls. Little wonder considering that all five of them -- ranging in age from sixteen to twenty-three -- are way cute. Nick Carter, the groups bleached-blond, contra-alto even has graced the cover of XY (number nine); in the same issue the entire group posed for a fashion shoot. I have friends who have collected nearly every poster, CD-single, and other article of Backstreet merchandise available (and there's plenty out there, between the imported limited edition CDs and the group's fan club stuff, including Backstreet boxers!). Whether any of the boys themselves are gay or not is up in the air; their publicists and record company have firmly denied any rumors to this but then again, you can never know (and Nick is just too fine and stylish to be straight).
I also bought the Japanese import version of the album. There is also a British import and the American version, with the two imports entitled "Backstreet's Back" while the American one is simply "Backstreet Boys." I chose the Japanese import -- though it is nearly twice as expensive as the domestic and a bit more than its British counterpart-- because it contains a bonus remix of the title cut and a special booklet which has some gorgeous photos of the boys and the Japanese transliteration of the lyrics. The lay-out and photography in this booklet and the CD booklet are top-notch, just what one should expect from a boy band which is strongly dependent on visuals.
The songs are a mixed grouping of some straight-ahead pop tunes, two danceable cuts (the title song included), and several soul-flavored songs in the style of Tevin Campbell or Boyz II Men. In fact, if I had heard the song "All I Have to Give" on the radio and did not know it was Backstreet, I would assume it was Boyz II Men. Then again, I don't claim to be an expert on that group's music. I do believe that anyone listening to the new album will notice the soul influence being even more pronounced than on their first album.
I was a bit disappointed that there were not all that many dance tunes on the album; the remixes of "Get Down" from the first album still stand as some the most popular (and danceable) of the group's work thus far. While I feel confident the title cut will be a hit in the clubs, I don't know about the rest of the new songs; no matter how talented a remixer they get, some of the tunes are so slow and, well, mushy, that even a remixologist of the high order of Connie Scott or David Morales could do little with them.
Backstreet has picked some interesting songs on this album, including a remake of "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss". Their harmonies are tight as ever and their vocal ranges set them apart from other boy groups before them, including the seminal Take That. Backstreet's success in the States will be dependent, I think, on three key factors: whether they tour here in support of this new album, whether they get the kind of media attention that they have garnered in Europe from American television, radio, and print publications, and whether they acknowledge their sizable gay audience. In their XY appearance they have started to address the latter two of those requirements; we will just have to wait and see where these boys go from here.