Backstreet’s Back, Shucking Boy-Band Pop for the Auto-Tune Trend

The Backstreet Boys
This Is Us
5/10

Back when they mattered, the Backstreet Boys could always be counted on to churn out albums chock full of syrupy, lovelorn ballads and high-energy teen pop. Even amid those sparkly slews of hit-factory pop, they still managed to produce infectious, stuck-in-your-head lyrics and harmonies that adult males would secretly hum. But on their newest, most “mature” effort, This Is Us, most cuts play like rejects from Justin Timberlake’s 2006 banger FutureSex/LoveSounds — that is, if they’d been written five years before.

The boys embrace a new techno — taking tips from Kayne’s vocoder-heavy hits — and attempt to reinvent themselves as a modern dance-pop number, more appropriate for the clubgoing crowd than a preteen Discman circa 1997.

Attempts to modernize go so far as a vampire-themed video for first single “Straight Through My Heart,” though the group has kept a few familiar elements: synchronized dancing, harmonized solos and, of course, repetitive choruses that burn themselves into your neurons.

The new dance/trance element detracts from the gooey charm that made the group so popular all those years ago. Their old shout-from-the-top-of-your-lungs choruses are barely present, and the yearning ballads don’t even make an appearance. By working again with Max Martin — one of BSB’s former producers — high-end production makes them into a bunch of European Top 40-wannabes landing in America for the first time. This Is Us will be fine for the dingier of dance floors, but a small piece of nostalgia makes us wish they’d hit us with something more extreme than today’s flimsy trends.

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