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Saturday, February 23rd
The Critics Corner: Albums
All Time Low
Backstreet Boys- This Is Us
Latest album falls flat on its face
Name: "This Is Us"
Label: Jive/Zomba
Release Date: October 6, 2009
My rating: 2.0 out of 5

Review written by: Alan Ho
Before the Jonas Brothers, there were the Backstreet Boys and as much as the trio's fanbase would like to not admit, they owe part of their careers to the now pop quartet (founding member Kevin Richardson left after 2005's 'Never Gone' to focus on his Broadway pursuits and his family). They might be the biggest-selling pop act of the mid 90s, once moving over a million and a half copies of one of their CDs in just a week. After fading away in 2001, the then quintet came back with a vengeance in 2005 with 'Never Gone', which showed a complete transformation of the guys, showcasing their ability to adapt to the new music world that was presented before them, ditching their dance-friendly R&B/Pop sound for a more organic alt-pop/rock sound driven by pianos, guitars, drums with their vocals a bigger focal point than ever before. In their first post-Kevin effort in 2007, 'Unbreakable', the now pop quartet took a bold risk by merging the new BSB with the old BSB, taking the best parts of each to create a rather edgy, unique sound that not only united their current fanbase, who are all well in their 20s and 30s, but also managed to snare themselves a piece of the current fans of the teen pop phenemenon, showing BSB's staying power and reach.

So with the success of "Unbreakable', what would the foursome do for the third effort of their second lives as relevant pop stars? The four indicated they desired a complete return to the music that put them on the map back in 1997, which meant relatively sappy lyrics awash in dance-friendly beats with an R&B/pop crust around it. Unfortunately such efforts fall flat on its collective face in their latest effort, "This Is Us". It falls so flat that not even the old BSB would have touched it in 1997! The fast-moving 11-track effort is awash in modern techno beats that the old BSB wouldn't have used back then and for the most part features some pretty bad songwriting from BSB stalwarts Andreas Carlsson and Max Martin that the cheesy lyrics from 1997-2001 seem so normal by comparison.

The album starts with the few gems on the effort, the radio friendly "Straight Through My Heart". The song immediately establishes the territory the four men track through the whole effort, one that is techno-friendly but unlike the rest of the album, the beats do not overwhelm the listener, allowing the listener to focus on the biggest part that launched these guys' careers, their voices. This is also one of the few songs in which Brian, Nick, AJ and Howie all get relatively equal voice time. The refrain of the song is extremely catchy and could end up stuck in your head in an endless loop. The next track, "Bigger" is perhaps the only track that sounds even remotely close to the sounds from the last two albums with the acoustic guitar strumming in the background.

The album then treads into bad pop territory with the admittedly infectious "Bye Bye Love'. The only thing infectious is the beat, which is accompanied by incredibly dumb and cheesy lyrics (I think I wanna stay single/Maybe we're better apart......So bye-bye love). This song is more acceptable lyrically for younger acts, but not for men approaching 35 (well Nick isn't even 30 yet, still unacceptable). Another exercise in mind-numbing would be the incredibly vapid and very unnecessary "PDA". Just because John Legend made "PDA" sound cool on his first album doesn't mean the Backstreet Boys can do the same. In fact, having the song's lyrics cheapen PDA and actually saying "Public displays of affection" do in fact make it sound pretty dumb and juvenile. The beats that come with it make it even more ludricous-sounding. By the time the song in which the 4 guys could be PDAing all over you in places like the grocery store and Starbucks, you just want the song to just stop. "Masquerade" sounds way too much like a bad Britney Spears song (circa 2003) right down the syncopated chorus and beat.

Then we come to the track that could be talked about, "She's A Dream". In 1996, this song might have made the top of the charts. But in 2009, this song wouldn't even make out of a recording studio period. The lyrics are extremely low-IQ for today's audiences and the beat is pretty much mid 90s. The album finally turns out another decent track in "Shattered" and too many tracks later to show the guys haven't forgotten the formula they should have used for the whole album. The last two albums showed that the guys were able to adapt to current music conditions for pop music and that is out in full force for "Shattered". The final track "Undone", a song co-written by Ryan Tedder and Josh Hoge and performed by the latter in his own live shows is butchered to the max and probably will never be performed by Josh ever again.

"This Is Us" is definitely not them and hopefully this is just a one-time thing. There was sentiment among fans that the guys found a perfect balance between their past and the material from "Never Gone" that they would be able to go forward with their careers and show the music world that they can last and adapt to a new music world. "This Is Us" is a near-disaster with only two excellent tracks and maybe one more decent track. Otherwise, the album is replete with dumb lyrics and overuse of dance and electronica beats. If they really want to stay in that route, perhaps a copy of Blake Lewis' "Heartbreak on Vinyl" should be given to them.
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