FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Robin Thicke and Backstreet Boys find their calling

It’s been a few weeks, so the dust has had time to settle on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s latest albums. For the sake of reviewing, I did not want to touch them because EVERYONE has to analyze and dissect these things for the real underlying message and what it means for us as a generation. That is, we the sophisticated music listeners.

It’s pretentious for someone to think they can listen to Yeezus and come away with a well-formulated analysis of society. We cannot relate to this music. Anyone who “get’s it” is lying. Here’s a random lyric: “Okay, I smashed your Corolla, I’m hanging on a hangover. Five years we been over, ask me why I came over. One more hit and I can own ya, one more **** and I can own ya.” It’s like a deleted scene from Project X. Even though some of his earlier work had this sort of late-night masquerade material, it was real. He had fought through incredible odds and was able to achieve his ultimate dream and share it with the common man in his first three albums. Then he poured his personal emotional struggles into 808s and Heartbreak, while My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was more on the artsy side. Now we’re far past that. He is so far beyond the normal lifestyle that he can’t possibly reach us from his galactic pedestal. Aesthetically, Yeezus is superb. But, like Kanye’s persona, the album’s glossy and appealing exterior can only do so much to cover up a hollow interior. And his ego, which I find rather charming, won’t allow him to see this. There is but one other man who can relate…

Magna Carta…Holy Grail is easier to ingest. If you put “JAY Z BLUE” aside, there are two themes to the album: ‘Fame is hard’ and ‘I am famous.’ I like Jay-Z, at least I think I do, but I don’t see his need to make music right now. Judging by the Samsung marketing, this album was merely proving a point that he is better at life than you: “I can have a platinum album by GIVING it away, you bums! AND I’ll still have enough money to sign Clark Kent to play for the Nets!” It’s sickening. I still haven’t deleted that app from my phone yet, so there might be an air strike heading my way before I can hit “Send.” But in the aforementioned “JAY Z BLUE,” there’s a real heart of a man trying to be a better father than his own. Great moment. Also, note that every rapper has a daughter and a corresponding song dedicated to her. Seriously, everyone I could think of does.

I realize that those are quasi-reviews,  but here are the real ones:

Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines

It has come to my attention that until recently, Robin Thicke has not been very popular with music listeners. Ever since his A Beautiful World debuted in 2003, he’s only seen a significant uptick in popularity in his seductive “Lost Without U.” Other than that, it’s been five albums of relative silence, but I only thought that was because of the content. He cranks out some of the best modern bedroom albums out there, which isn’t a big sell for the radio. Still, I thought people were paying attention while being too ashamed to talk about it. Then this “Blurred Lines” nonsense came out and he’s back to relevance with his sixth album by the same name. It’s genius, really. Instead of the usual slow jam, Thicke took the Timberlake/Usher route and started cranking out more upbeat hits while keeping the provocative material. Justin Timberlake went a different direction with his The 20/20 Experience, so Blurred Lines is here to take it’s place with some endearing funky-smooth beats. No bedtime songs for you.

“Take it Easy on Me” sounds like it came off of FutureSex/LoveSounds, right down to Timbaland’s signature interruptions. “Get in My Way” is a throwback boogie-jam, but I’m not sure if that or “Give It to U” is the next over-played single. Regardless, we were in a mega-hit dry spell, now we have our artist of the moment. Let’s just see how long it’ll last.

Backstreet Boys - In a World Like This

In case you haven’t been keeping up, here’s a quick run-down of what BSB has been up to the past few years:

  • 2006 – Kevin leaves the band; the Boys soldier on.
  • 2007 - Release album six, Unbreakable. (One of their best albums though not widely recognized as such.)
  • 2009 – Release album seven, This is Us. (This is not them. Tried to fit into the Lady Gaga/Justin Bieber pop landscape with super-bubbly hits, which is not how BSB does business.)
  • 2011 – Leave Jive Records. (Later created an independent label called K-BAHN – an anagram of the first letters of each member’s name.)
  • 2012 – Kevin returns, legacy restored.

With full creative control on In a World Like This, this eighth studio album is what makes the Backstreet Boys the greatest boy band that will ever walk this earth. I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t think their status atop the pop Pantheon can even be questioned at this point, no disrespect to NKOTB. They have the longevity, the talent and the integrity of a dynasty. But incidentally, I can’t imagine these songs popping up all over the radio like the BSB of yesteryear. This isn’t a record for adolescents. Much like Hanson’s new album, the mature quality of In a World Like This might be to it’s detriment, at least commercially. You get this vision in your head that a boy band is supposed to appeal to young girls with their catchy, guilt-ridden songs you can’t seem to escape. And because of who they were, it’s hard to embrace who they are, even when they have tolerable hits for a more or less universal audience. Their updated “Similar Artist” page should include Lifehouse and maybe The Calling, not so much N*Sync and 98 Degrees.

I hate it when the title track/lead single is the best song on the album, but that’s the case here. “In a World Like This” has a youthful edge while retaining BSB’s adult-alternative sophistication. So is this any kind of groundbreaking display of musicianship? Not at all. Only “Permanent Stain” and “Make Believe” stood out on first listen and the rest faded into background noise. But it was pleasant, which is more than I can say about a One Direction album. That’s how it should be for the Backstreet Boys in 2013: wholesome and sincere. They had their time to release hit after hit and do extensive touring, but being 40-years-old ruins those ambitions. The members probably prefer it this way because they have families, kids, and reasons to come home.

Reasons to sing.

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2 thoughts on “FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Robin Thicke and Backstreet Boys find their calling

  1. Touring where is the money is made in music nowadays, and even with several children, the Backstreet Boys are no different than all the other music artists out there. In fact, in 2011 with the combined income of the tour for This is Us and the epic NKOTBSB tour, Backstreet was once again in the Top 30 Moneymaking Music Artists list. What stood out to me about this first album where they, instead of a label, had artistic control–they had songs that mean something other than their standard midtempo romantic ballads. Madeleine was inspired by the story of one of their fans that committed suicide due to online bullying. Show Em What You’re Made Of is dedicated to their children. And you chose Make Believe over Breathe-very strange. Another creative step for them–Try is a stripped down old school R&B sung by AJ McLean showing off his bluesy male Adele voice in its best. Then there are the songs with a carribbean summer feel such as Trust Me and their fan anthem Feels Like Home fuses country funk with straight up pop. Bonus song HotHotHot should have been on the regular album as should R&B/roots music fusion Take Care! Yes, this album is a bit schizophrenic-Soldier, Love Somebody nod to that Top 40 mess of club music and urban R&B pop. One Phone Call is old school Backstreet aka 90s pop. But it is in their creative melding of different genres and willingness to experiment which shows the group is stepping forward. Now they just have to let go of the past. They aren’t going to be like other “boybands” like NKOTB or Take That who only go with what is expected of them. Backstreet is expermenting and finding themselves and I think we are going to find that they will be like no other “boyband” before them when all is said and done.

    • There is definitely a lot to this album, way more than one listen can identify. I’m glad you pointed some of those out. But no matter what their sound morphs into, their bravery to venture out alone is admirable. The best part is that there is no shame in being a fan of 2013 BSB.

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