1997, 1998, Music

Backstreet Boys (1997, 1998 Re-Issue)

I am listening to this for my podcast. (Well, not exactly this album, but close. I’ll get into that.) But I don’t know what to do with it for a number of reasons. I don’t like pop music like this and I don’t spend time listening to it. Here are some reasons why:

  • Since my teens, when I discovered interesting music, I haven’t been interested in music that is just hooks and nothing else.
  • I am skeptical of music that I feel is trying to sell me something.
  • In high school, when this came out, it was pretty much the epitome of what I didn’t like and the exact antithesis of the kind of music I was starting to listen to. It was also the antithesis of the person I thought I was trying to become – a straight male intellectual who absolutely cannot dance.
  • Since I stopped listening to The Nylons and ’50s and ’60s vocals groups, I have become wary and kind of disappointed in vocal groups who have little to no creative control of their own music.
  • Though there have been all sorts of attempts to promote “popism” and the appreciation of pop as a craft worthy of consideration of an art form, most of this has been lost on me – with some exceptions, I still don’t hear it.

I’m sure there are other reasons, too.

But there’s an additional issue I have with this record, that I have to give voice to, even if it seems irrelevant to people who like this: The Backstreet Boys discography is super confusing. I am listening to the 1998 reissue of a 1997 American debut album (one track difference) which has the same name as the international debut album released in 1996, which contains tracks from both their first and second albums. It’s like the Beatles’ US albums all over again! If I were to listen to the catalogue and try to make sense of some kind of artistic progression – if such a thing can be said to exist in the world of boy bands – I’d have trouble doing it. That is a major problem for someone like me, who rates things, in part, based on an idea of artistic progression, both in the culture at large and by artists and bands themselves.

All of this aside, let’s get to the music!

It’s boyband teen pop, as we all know. The singles are, unsurprisingly, more catchy than the songs which were not deemed worthy of the singles, with one notable exception: “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” where the sheer post-modernness of it shocked me into a stupor until I realized it was a cover. (Of course it’s a cover!) It’s the best thing here, at least from a creativity standpoint. Of course, it’s not theirs.

I hate the lyrics, generally speaking, but particularly to that most inane of all boyband hits, “As Long as You Love Me,” wherein the boys tells us they don’t actually care what kind of girl you are, as long as you adore them. What if she’s a serial killer, boys? I don’t like songs about dancing and sex, generally speaking, even when I like the music. And I rarely like love songs written to be sung by men directly to women (a specific woman, sure, and about the love of a woman, sure, but not when I, the audience member, am the target of the song).

I guess these guys are good singers for the most part but one of them (Howie D?) is clearly worse than the rest of them. Without watching some music videos (I’m not doing that!), I can’t tell who it is. But every time he takes a verse I cringe.

The music underlying these vocals has dated slightly but not as much as I would have imagined; the keyboards are very ’90s, as is the sequencing, but it’s not quite as dated as I would have imagined. Some of it sounds like it might have been recorded this century, which is something.

The production is very, very slick, whether or not the songs or the boys’ voices deserve it. Sometimes I think that these guys might be a little more soulful, but then I listen to their songs, or I listen to the compression on some of their voices and I think, even if they were, their handlers would not let us hear that much. (There are exceptions to this on record and I’m sure it’s different live, when they’re allowed to sing live instead of lipsynch. Shock! Horror!)

I have used Top 40 radio as my standard for average music for a very long time. This is very the definition of Top 40 radio (from 1997). Every bone in my body wants me to rate it lower than average because I have constitutionally detested music like this for over twenty years.

But if I’m being fair, it’s very competent and even contains a song that shocked me in terms of its quality. And so I guess I must admit that it’s not as awful as I want it to be, or as most RYM users insist it is. (Let’s keep in mind the demographics of RYM.)


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