Philadelphia Inquirer Review of B&B

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Date: Nov 22, 2000
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Submitted By: Kim Lynyak

Backstreet Boys Stick to Formula

Written by Tom Moon

The Backstreet Boys reboard the roller coaster of love today, and it's going to be a long,long ride.

Listen to Black & Blue, their much-anticipated follow-up to last year's Milennium, as they suffer the thrills and spills and dips and downturns of romance, bonding in polished harmony over such cataclysmic events as an interupted cell-phone call. Check the chilly wind that gusts through "Get Another Boyfriend". Hear the glory of their five exaulting voices as they belt such profundities as "You are my shining star". Savor the devotion of the fist single, "Shape of My Heart," which is the compforting consistency of warm pudding.

Finally, after the six business-as-usual love songs that begin Black & Blue (Jive * * 1/2) comes a bona fide pop-culture milestone: a thank-you to fans called "Everyone" that raises the bar of all shout-outs to come.

Acknowledging the support of the faithful is a virtual requirement for teen-pop CDs, but these cagey veterans have transformed the musical bread-and-butter note into 3 1/2 minutes solely designed to celebrate commercial triumph. After a throwaway round of thank-yous, the Boys- Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, A.J. McLean, and Kevin Richardson- bow before the masses and express something like awe, as a band whose last album sold 12 million copies darn well should.

"We're standing stong because of what you've done," they sing, apparently referring to the transfer of hard cash for discs, concert tickets, and T-shirts. And they plan to repay each and every one of their fans personally, because "we know who you are".

Yikes! We knew the producers behind Backstreet were crafty, but this borders on creepy. Have they installed listening devices in middle schools?

Hearing the vaguely urban "Everyone," you can't help wondering if the Boys' platform of compassionate commercialism was born out of the group's rivalry with 'N Sync, whose recent No Strings Attached moved 2.4 million copies in its first week of release.

Less song than slogan, "Everyone" proclaims: "See? We're really grateful, and we care. Love us back."

Such groveling is, perhaps, inevitable. The group has no doubt seen the market-research data suggesting that the teen trend may have crested. It recognizes a certain burnout, even among core fans, with that wheedling and pleading style of singing they pioneered.

So throughout Black & Blue, the Backstreet Boys hedge their bets: They strive to appear more evolved lyrically ("I know we have changed, but change can be so good"), but deliver the expected up-tempo bonbons and thoughtful carmel-coated ballads, the former aimed at kids and the latter at the legions of minivan pilots who need something, anything, to calm their nerves.

There are no groundbreaking tunes from either category, but there hardly need to be: The great attraction of the Backstreet Boys is their reassuring predicatability, the way even the most vexing problem is resolved in a fraction of the time it takes to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Smooth voices rise up in expressions of relentless chumminess and tourched love, moving from solo verses to sweeping anthemic choruses on a timetable that's been refined to the millisecond. The emotions reflect all the hues of Hallmark. The peak moments come with the surging strings of Hollywood romance. The bombastic ballads, several cowritten by members of the group, veer into Celine Dion love-as-redemption territory.

What saves this sturdily production, if often vapid, material is some of the most striking production in all of pop. No matter how prefab the melodies or rote the sentiments, the fairy dust sprinkled by European micing-board savants (Swedish teen-pop master Max Martin, the team of Franciz and Le Pont) and domestic legends such as Babyface give the beats a sharp whomp and the pooled voices undeniable gleam. The tracks of Black & Blue are curios polished to high gloss- each ready for radio, pleasent and immediately likable, a mountainous sugar-feast of empty calories.

A few dare to be different. The opening track, "The Call," is a barrage of thundering orchestral fury that masks its prosaic message which is essentially: "I'll be late, don't wait up". And "Get Another Boyfriend" exhibits incharacteristic rhythmic sass.

But even these "experiments" follow the formula that has served the Boys so well. It will no doubt work again, but such a craven strategy may ultimately prove short-sighted: One day soon, their maturing fans will find themselves hungering for melodies with a bit of backbone and lyrics not quite so sing-song simple. And if the Boys don't get wise, all they'll have to offer will be endless variations on those tried-and-true themes of courtship and some of the most outlandish thank-yous in all of pop.

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