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Backstreet Boys
Millennium
Jive Records
(worldwide release: 18 May 1999)
Reviewed by Michael Walker

The Backstreet Boys were the first American "boy band" to spring up in the wake of the British boy bands of the early 1990s -- most notably Take That and East 17 -- to court both European and American audiences with their pop harmonies and good looks. In early 1996, Backstreet released its first single "We Got It Goin' On" in both the United States and Europe, but only found success in European markets. A little later in the same year, Backstreet released a self-titled album in Europe which garnered them greater acclaim, but they still found little popularity in their native United States. All that changed with the release of their second album -- titled Backstreet Boys in America but Backstreet's Back in the rest of the world -- as the group became one of the hottest-selling and most popular musical acts of 1997 and 1998. Given that background, it's easy to understand why Backstreet needed a massively popular and thereby successful album to follow up in 1999.

Millennium is an interesting album, to be sure. Despite the comments of the Backstreet Boys and their promoters that the album would depart from the synth-pop/dance song and ballad format of the two previous albums, there seems to be little difference musically in Millennium and the other Backstreet Boys efforts. This is not necessarily a bad thing, after all, the Boys have found a winning formula that has allowed them to enjoy an amazing degree of success worldwide over the past four years or so. But for those fans who were expecting something radically different from Backstreet, Millennium may be something of a disappointment. The songs are catchy, show off the group's admittedly exceptional harmonies, and tend to lean towards the slow-dance type of material featured on Backstreet's Back. The first single, "I Want it That Way" and the first track on the album, "Larger Than Life" are assured to become two of the most-played songs of the summer -- not only on the radio and MTV but in everyone's Jeeps and boomboxes at beach-side barbecues. All five of the Boys are in fine form vocally, and the graphic design and album packaging is the slickest and most complex yet.

I have not seen a CD single for "I Want it That Way", so I cannot say what efforts Jive has put into remixes but suspect that if anything, the two most up-tempo numbers on the disc -- the aforementioned "Larger Than Life" and "It's Got to be You" will receive the most attention from remixers and clubs. Jive, in my humble opinion, would be downright stupid to neglect the market share they can garner from remixes aimed at clubs. Aside from teenage girls, gay males seem to make up one of the largest groups that invest in Backstreet Boys music and ancillary merchandise, and many young gay men first heard the group through the remixes of "Backstreet's Back" in the Fall of 1997. Last year saw the introduction of the band 'N Sync -- five boys based out of Orlando, much like the Backstreet Boys in their history, formation, and musical scope -- and along with 'N Sync's phenomenal success, other groups such as Five and 98 Degrees have also hopped on the boy-band wagon. For Backstreet to continue to enjoy their place as kings of the hill, they will need to milk every demographic market share they currently have -- gay men certainly included. To be honest, while I like the new album enough to justify buying it, I believe I am quickly becoming more of an 'N Sync fan myself, although neither 'N Sync nor the Backstreet Boys have really gone as far as they could to produce quality remixes and to court the dance market. In fact, the best remixes of the Backstreet Boys (to me, at least) are off of their debut European album. Ballads are fine and well, but dance music is an area where bands like 'N Sync and Backstreet can really find their niche; while the last remix CD single put out by 'N Sync only featured a scant four actual extended mixes, Whitney Houston has put out no less than seven mixes of "It's Not Right, but It's Okay". Deborah Cox and other soul and hip-hop artists have also realized the cross-over possibilities for remixes -- maybe it's time the boy bands out there realize this viable market, too.

All in all, Millennium is not a bad album, and is pretty much what I would expect from the Backstreet Boys. It's fun music, heartfelt, and well-produced. But it does not really seem to take the Boys in any new directions. Right now, Backstreet can enjoy this status as the album is selling very well and has little direct competition. It would have been interesting to say the least to have seen what would have happened if 'N Sync had put forth their sophomore album around the same time as Millennium's release, but this did not happen and a new 'N Sync album is not scheduled for release anytime soon to my best knowledge. Backstreet has, it should be noted, also stayed steadfast in their appreciative acknowledgment of their gay fans while also stressing that all five members of the group are straight. Without a doubt, Backstreet has worked hard (and rather long, it should be remembered) to reach the level of success they currently enjoy, and hopefully they will continue to find success while perhaps broadening the scope of their music in the process. I cannot say that Millennium is my favorite album of the year, but it's a good one and possibly a precursor of even better things to come.


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