Backstreet Boyz II Backstreet Men?

‘Unbreakable’ gives us exactly what they’re good at: crooning and vocal harmonies.

Stephanie Dickrell

I’m not sure why I enjoy reminiscing about my childhood so much, but whatever the reason, I’m often caught listening to the teeny-bopper music that defined my sixth-grade music collection, or watching Dawson’s Creek.

So naturally, when I hear that the Backstreet Boys had done it again, releasing a fifth U.S. album, my inner child had an inner tantrum – demanding I listen – to determine if they, and I, had grown up at all since our first encounter in elementary school.

“Unbreakable” features four of the five original members of the group. Kevin Richardson, certified oldie of the group at 36, left the band to spend time with his family, but didn’t rule out a return at a later date.

But they are still the Backstreet Boys. I approached the album expecting to hear the Backstreet Boys, same old, same old, and that’s what I got.

The crooning and the vocal harmonies that made them famous are in good form. However the mood is decidedly more mature, slightly less poppy, and how else can I say it, grown up.

For canned pop, for a boy band, they satisfyingly deliver. Don’t expect a revolution. They’ve made millions doing it this way, a tested, tried and true method of music. And I can’t help it if I like it. It still gets me.

As with their other album releases, it’s necessary to look beyond the single they released, “Inconsolable.” It is not the catchiest of the songs on the album and a relatively weak song choice to sell records.

In the late ’90s, The Boys, most pushing the line of 30, were the stuff of dreams for teenage girls, myself included. The dedication and loyalty of a teenage girl to their favorite band is not easily shaken, and we would spend hours dissecting various boy bands, defending our favorites against the litany of constant threats, including other boy bands – *NSync, LFO, 5ive, Youngstown, BBmak, Plus One, O-Town, 98 Degrees (those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head), those rock-type people who hated boy bands and all they stood for, and adults who just couldn’t seem to understand.

That rivalry seems to be waning however, as *NSync member JC Chasez and Backstreet member A.J. collaborated along with T. Feemster to write “Treat Me Right” for the new CD. The four Boys also get writing cred for three songs, “One in a Million” – which is reminiscent of early Maroon 5, “Panic,” and “Unsuspecting Sunday Afternoon.”

But this is more than just fandom for me. Back in the days of pig tails and baby-sitting, the boys and I had a relationship. I knew and still know all the words of the songs. I even recall acting out a music video with my friend from across the street, starring my stuffed favorite animals as Nick, A.J., Brian, Howie and Kevin.

I was there, the summer of 1999 when the Boys’ “I Want It That Way” and Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” were battling it out for the No. 1 spot day-in and day-out on MTV’s Total Request Live. Another friend of mine, she too stuck in the wilderness miles from town and any other friends, talked with me on the phone – a landline – discussing who would win each day, making our predictions and dissing Fred Durst for his crass lyrics and crappy attitude.

As you can see, I have a lot personally invested in this band, even as my music tastes grew and broadened, thanks initially to Linkin Park’s “In the End,” which, no lie, introduced me to music beyond teenie-bopper pop. Sometimes there’s something almost refreshing about looking back to pony tails and stuffed animals, and the Backstreet Boys reassuringly provide the soundtrack.