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Album Review: Backstreet Boys - DNA


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Celebrating their 25th year as one of most renowned boybands in pop, Backstreet Boys have amassed a huge number of fans; those who followed them from the beginning and those that were born after their time, but who have still grown up listening to their brand of Top 40s pop.

Their newest album release, DNA, seeks to re-establish the boys' relevance in the 21st-century pop sphere.

Backstreet Boys - DNA

The boys’ performance on Strictly Come Dancing in 2018 was highly anticipated and one of the first glimpses of the band’s new image, so many years after their heyday. Tactically choosing to do a medley of their most-loved hits, it was established that Backstreet Boys are definitely back, but it was certainly questionable as to whether they’d still got it. Lead vocalist Brian Littrell’s performance was noticeably weak, and the band lacked the charisma and energy that they had ‘back in the day’. However, many life-long fans were quick to attribute this to Littrell’s diagnosis of muscle tension dysphonia, a condition that affects his vocal abilities.

DNA is, therefore, an album which exemplifies an acceptance of change both vocally, musically, and in terms of its social reception. New material means that hiding behind iconic, teenage-heartthrob anthems such as ‘I Want It That Way’ and ‘Shape Of My Heart’ is no longer an option.

As if such a release needed any more anticipation surrounding it, we were teased with a string of singles from the album. ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’, released back in May 2018 is a straight-up catchy pop banger: an adaptation of the 90s bass-beats and cheesy lyrics of years gone by. Soft keyboard chords are layered with emotional vocals, inundated with reverb and oscillating synth pangs – not entirely dissimilar to what you might hear on the radio.

Being the first track on the album, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ assures that DNA isn’t necessarily going to be a group of 40-something-year-old-dads trying to relive their youth; they too have adapted to the different audience that they are appealing to.

It is the tracks that acknowledge this change that are arguably the most successful on the album. ‘Breathe’ is refreshing and masterful, championing stellar vocal ranges and the boy’s ability to harmonise, in an entirely new, bare and vulnerable framework. Rich and deep Pitch Perfect-esque A Capella ‘do dos’ ripple underneath soft and caressing vocal melodies, culminating into a climax when all voices join together in the choruses.

‘No Place’ glimmers with melting harmonies, this time in a different lyrical framework. Given context by its accompanying video, ‘No Place’ is an ode to the member’s wives and children: there’s “no place” like them. Such a heart-warming video allows the boys to tug cleverly on the maternal instincts in their day one fans.

‘The Way It Was’ is reminiscent of Olly Murs – swing rhythms meet boy-band pop backing vocals, with reverb-emphasised downbeats and a display of the band’s vocal range, whereas ‘Chateau’ seeps with charismatic nostalgia, shamelessly cringey lyrics, “baby I want you back”, harking back to its roots in Black & Blue. ‘Chances’ is rescued by the grit and energy that the vocals bring to it.

The rest of DNA, however, feel slightly cringey, outdated and misjudged. ‘New Love’ and ‘Passionate’ drip with sex appeal, seductive basslines and deep vocal melodies but fail to climax. It's exactly what we feared - commercialised hits that, lyrically, feel empty. Compared to ‘No Place’, which felt like it was moving forward, the tracks are trying to make up for lost time to no avail.

Similarly, ‘Is It Just Me’, ‘The Way U Like It’, ‘Ok’ and ‘No One Else’ feel largely underwhelming and generic, with a heavy reliance on production and auto-tune that the voices often lose themselves in. These tracks lack the charm and cheekiness that Backstreet Boys were loved for in the first place.

There's no doubt that Backstreet Boys certainly should be credited for their vocal abilities that are showcased on the more successful songs of the album. In their experimentation, they show they're more than just their late 90s hits. However, the backbone of the record is flimsy and pumped with generic boyband hits that lack much individuality. Backstreet's back... sort of. 

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