BOTTOM LINE Ohmigod, they’re back again!
Backstreet’s back, all right. And sure, there are demographic and cultural reasons for it — a way moms can share their musical crushes with their BTS-loving daughters mixed with a desire to use sweet unabashed pop to escape the increasing stressfulness in uncertain times.
But the main reason the Backstreet Boys successfully engineered this comeback — massive tour, Grammy nomination for the hit “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” — is the music. And “DNA” (RCA) builds on that momentum to create the group’s strongest album in years.
“Chances,” co-written by Shawn Mendes and Ryan Tedder, sounds more like Mendes or Justin Bieber than the guys who delivered “I Want It That Way” 20 years ago, with the thunderous intensity of the production adding a sense of drama that wasn’t in the classic Backstreet Boys sound.
The retro soul of “The Way It Was” shows how they have reworked their trademark harmonies to fit in the current pop landscape, combining old-school vocals and fluttering falsettos with booming production the way Rihanna and Bruno Mars have, to build a gorgeous standout moment. With the a cappella “Breathe,” they take a page from the Pentatonix playbook. And on “Just Like You Like It,” co-written by country star Dustin Lynch, they show they could give Little Big Town a run for their money in Nashville.
But it’s the way the Backstreet Boys have matured — bringing the R&B-tinged pop sound that made them kings of the pop chart at the turn of the century with them — that’s the most impressive. “New Love,” with its lower-register harmonies and distinctly adult lyrics, is the work of grown men. (“Who are you? The sex police?” asks AJ McLean to open the song.) The horn-tastic “Passionate” may be the funkiest they have ever been.
“DNA” marks the boys-to-men evolution of Backstreet, showing that the New Kids on the Block’s successful strategy of working hard and accepting change is no fluke.