Oh no, the rent has to be paid, living expenses have to be made, and it’s hard to find good-time girlfriends when they are no longer famous so the Backstreet Boys decide that it’s more pragmatic to put aside their internal differences and return with a new CD after their fellow teenybopper buddies have called it a day and move on to obscurity (or if you’re Justin Timberlake, Cameron Diaz). I guess I can be evil and suggest that this CD sounds exactly like what a has-been act sounds like, but Never Gone actually sounds exactly what a grown-up boyband will sound if they were allowed to grow up and mellow.
Never Gone boasts some of the power ballad tracks that cemented the Backstreet Boys’ reputation as a guilty pleasure. Power ballads like the violin-laden Incomplete (with unfortunate lines like “Empty places fill me up with holes”) and Lose It All, with its soaring chorus, won’t embarrass anyone who is caught with these songs blaring from the player. Their take on the Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik creation Weird World however feels stilted and unnatural, probably because this track is exactly like a typical Five for Fighting song and the Backstreet Boys won’t be confused with Five for Fighting anytime soon.
But don’t fear, little children, because there are still some clear happy-go-lucky pop inflections here, like in the LFO-sounding Poster Girl. For broody people who like their music with a little angst, I Still… is appropriately moody and melancholic with the best singalong choruses this side of Bon Jovi.
The best track in this CD – and one of the best songs I’ve heard in recent months – is Siberia. This track combines everything great about the strongest tracks in this CD (catchy choruses, effective faux-angst, Brian Littrell’s earnest vocals interspersed with AJ McLean’s smooth and naughty vocals, Nick Carter not sounding like an irritating pipsqueak) and even manages to have some earnest and mature lyrics to create a poignant story of a man unable to move on after his ex has left him. I actually find this track as good as if not better than I Want It That Way, come to think of it, and whenever I play this CD, this track is the one which always get a few replays.
The bottom line is, if this CD isn’t by a boyband that has passed its expiry date at least three years ago, Never Gone will be a CD that is dignified to enjoy openly without fearing mockery and derision from the people around me. It’s the best thing they have ever come out with, which makes it a big pity, in a way, that this CD will most likely end up being their least successful CD. At least I will always have Siberia in my heart.