It sort of seemed like the latter at the beginning of the summer when the Seth Rogen comedy This Is the End opened and we discovered that Jay Baruchel’s idea of heaven was the Boys-now-men performing their classic Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) in the clouds. Scoff if you must, but the quintet — including Central Kentuckians Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson — gave the dark comedy an exuberant finale.
Of course, that was with their one of their biggest hits — from 1997.
In 2013, well into the new millennium, are the Backstreet Boys still capable of substantively adding to their catalog? It just so happens, in advance of their sold-out show, they have dropped a new album, In a World Like This. It’s the first album with Richardson since 2006 and is timed to coincide with the group’s 20th anniversary.
There are many moments it sounds like 1999 all over again, when BSB’s album Millennium was topping the charts and the boys were selling out back-to-back nights at Rupp Arena. Tracks such as Show ’Em (What You’re Made Of), Make Believe and the title track show a vocal group in fine, fine form. That really shouldn’t be surprising since men’s voices usually peak in the 30s and 40s, the demographic the Boys are now in (they range in age from Carter, who is 33, to Richardson, who is 41).
But the problem with World is that it reaches back too much. Worse, the new songs are pale comparisons to their predecessors.
Try is a nice attempt at acoustic blue-eyed soul, but the efforts at growth and exploration are few and far between here. If you made your mark as teen idols, you can’t hope to keep working that image when some of your members are now old enough to be fathers of today’s teens.
Then there are awkward moments including the prison metaphor One Phone Call and Feels Like Home, a travelogue party song many acts like Huey Lewis and the News did much better, and in their primes. The song starts out really strange with a Southern rock drawl and lyrics about Kentucky, girls with Southern accents and moonshine — dudes, no one is going to mistake you for the Backwoods Boys — before falling back into BSB’s regular pop sheen.
Yes, the Backstreet Boys can still pack a shed. But it is safe to say that the fans will be screaming for classics like I Want It That Way and Larger Than Life. If their goal is to top the charts again, Backstreet hasn’t found its way back.