Review: “Backstreet Boys” by Backstreet Boys (CD, 1996)

Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate uncertain, is the 1996 eponymous debut album Backstreet Boys by the American boy band, Backstreet Boys. Has this album Got It Goin’ On, or will you want to Quit Playin’ it? Read on…

Backstreet Boys - Backstreet Boys (1996) album
Backstreet Boys – Backstreet Boys (1996) album

This 13 track CD opens with lead single We’ve Got It Goin’ On, and we’re straight into those fat synth sounds, slamming beats, and harmonies ‘aaah!’ tropes of Backstreet Boys. This track bounces along perfectly thanks the magic of Swedish songwriter Max Martin (Britney Spears etc) in the first of four collaborations here. With Brian Littrell on lead vocals, and the rap from AJ McLean he even sounds like Michael Jackson has stopped by for luck. This was actually a rough start for the group, with this single original charting in the UK at #54. When re-released 10 months later as the fourth single, the UK rightly rewarded it with a #3 position instead. It is prime Backstreet Boys tune, and the perfect opening track.

Anywhere For You follows that, opening with chime bars and a whispery ‘oh yeah!‘ as this ballad lands us into heart-throbs sing a schmaltzy ballad. Again, Brian takes the lead here, showing off his impressive vocal range, and he’s joined here by Nick Carter, who sounds a bit saccharine here in comparison. This was the seventh and final single released for this album, and despite it being a paint-by-numbers American ballad, it gave them a #4 hit in the UK.

Tempo rises for Get Down (You’re The One For Me), and this was the track that gave the group their UK breakthrough – with a #14 hit. Here, the pumping beats and synths return as the boys chat ‘get down, get down, and move it all around‘. They’re going to make your theirs, but not until Smooth T has literally dropped in (see video) to rap in the middle. Whilst Nick starts the song off, the stronger vocals come from AJ and Brian, with the former briefly sounding like early Jason Donovan the first time he appears. This reminds me a bit of I’ve Got A Little Something For You by MN8 which was a hit the year before.

That’s followed by the sultry spoken word intro of plodding heartfelt song I’ll Never Break Your Heart. We’re back into ballad zone again. It does at least give us some clear vocals from the wider group, but it really could Boyz II Men if I didn’t know, complete with a get-off-those-stools key change in the final third. Like We’ve Got It Goin’ On, this track was released as the album’s second UK single, but again it stumbled at #42. When re-released 11 months later as the fifth single, it gave them a #8 UK hit. The vocal harmonies are nice, but it’s quite a boring song.

Following that is Quit Playin’ Games (With My Heart) bringing us a drum machine beat and simple bass before the vocals drop in (and not much else in the first verse). This gives the boys a perfect platform to show off their vocals, especially in the chorus which is catchy, and warmed nicely by their vocal harmonies. Acoustic guitars join in after a while, but the song is an upbeat but mellow track. The song rightly gave them a #2 UK hit single, again with Max Martin on songwriting duties.

Next up is Boys Will Be Boys and this has some nicely subdued synth notes in the background that remind me of a level on my old GameBoy Smurfs game. Meanwhile, its melody reminds me of some of the early Bobby Brown solo new jack swing tracks. It’s fairly mellow but there’s are bursts of energy from the vocals, and escalating key change over the simple beat.

Just To Be Close To You follows that and it’s time to ‘get close to THIS’, whatever ‘this’ is. This track has some almost Barbershop vocal harmonies going on, and it works well over the simple beat.

Then it’s I Wanna Be With You, which brings us some more of those fat acidy synth lines that are synonymous with the Backstreet Boys sound. Again, I’m very much reminded of MN8’s hit, and We’ve Got It Goin’ On from earlier in the album. Instead, the track sounds nice – the snare slaps loud, and the vocals feel relaxed and delivered with great ease.

Next up is Every Time I Close My Eyes, and whilst it starts off sounding like it’s going to be a plodding ballad, it’s actually a nice mid-tempo shuffling beat. There’s some more really nice vocals and harmonies here, and the result is actually a really nice track.

That’s followed by Darlin’, another mid-tempo song, this sees the boys asking the ladies how they ‘can make things right‘. Musically, a million love songs could be written over the top of this, but this one does at least allow the Backstreet Boys to show off their soft vocal harmonies shine once more.

An announcer shouts out, and we’re into Let’s Have A Party, which repeatedly samples The Jacksons’ 1976 hit Enjoy Yourself, which brings a great sound to the track, and that alongside the crowd cheers aptly adds to a party atmosphere. You get a whiff of the future hit Backstreet’s Back just before 16yr old Nick Carter starts off the vocals, but this steps aside to focus on the Jacksons’ sample. This is a great track, but it would have benefitted from being just a little faster, and perhaps as a single with mixes.

Penultimate track, not to be confused by the hit from Oasis, is Roll With It (go on, imagine it for a few seconds. There). Here, we’re treated to a slick R&B beat with frequent little harp strums. The boys alternate between the vocals, and the song really does roll easily along. The result is a softer song that has some great vocal performances in lead and harmonies. The party-goers from the previous track are clearly still in the studio, and they occasionally interject to encourage the track along. It’s definitely a catchy foot-tapper.

The album closes with the deep gurgling bass synths of Nobody But You. This gives the final track a robotic darker tone, with a simple pop beat dropped in over the top. This pitched alongside the boys’ vocals and piano chords works really well, and because the track is fairly bare, it works really well. There’s no key change, balladeer’s tinkling chime bar, or heartfelt ‘ooh’ here, it’s hard and punchy and sounds great.

Backstreet Boys’ lead single ‘We’ve Got It Goin’ On’ (1996)

Verdict

Over all, this album is a mixture of three things – fat synthed up anthems, mid-tempo light pop songs, and saccharine ballads.

Despite this, vocally there are some really nice songs here. Whilst these five boys are frequently wanting to Get Down and Be Close To You, they’re all straight off the bat thanking God for the album in the sleeve notes. I hope he doesn’t listen to this album, as there’s plenty of sexy time references. The group often sound like a more thrusty New Kids On The Block, and this is definitely the case in the accompanying videos.

The highlights here are very much We’ve Got It Goin’ On, Roll With It, Quit Playin’ Games (With My Heart), and Get Down (You’re The One For Me), all of which are really good strong songs. The over-use of heartfelt/horny ballads gets a bit tedious though, something American boy bands suffer from a glut of presumably due to their marketing teams wanting to hypnotise their adoring fans. This makes the album feel longer, and a bit padded out at times, with Just To Be Close To You and Anywhere For You being the dullest. Still, I’ve never been a teenage girl, so what do I know.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!

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