The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Backstreet Boys’ ‘DNA’ may very well be their best album ever

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Three years of work went into what the Backstreet Boys themselves call their “favorite album ever” and on January 25, DNA was finally released worldwide, complete with an iHeartRadio live release stream, because that’s how things are done these days. The Backstreet team knows what’s up, exemplified by the #DNAuary event throughout January on the band’s official social media channels, featuring previews of songs, interviews with the band, polls, and generous retweeting of fans’ posts leading up to the release.

Yes, 25 years later the Backstreet Boys are still around and that is music to my ears. I have been a fan since actual Day 1, 1995’s release of “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” in Germany, where I am from, two whole years before that song hit US airwaves. So truly, I am an OG.

For anyone doubting the band’s relevance in 2019, their ticket sales prove otherwise. The world tour supporting DNA sold out faster than you can say “deoxyribonucleic acid,” and I should know, because I managed to nab some of the last tickets to one of the tour dates two hours after tickets went on sale. After a two year residency in Las Vegas, this marks the first time in years the band is going back on the road, all of them now being family men, and DNA mostly sounds like the perfect album to bring on the road with them. It boasts plenty of harmonies to show off the band’s vocal abilities, straight-to-your-ear melodies, and straight-to-your-feet beats. It is a modern-day pop album made to order and has a lot of potential to win new fans, as well as pleasing long-time aficionados. So could it really be their best album ever?

The answer is yes, it really could be. The three singles already released from the album make the strongest case for this.

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” kicked things off on a fresh, EDM-influenced note new for the group in May 2018 and it also kicks off the DNA album. The track has been nominated for a Grammy and was the highest-charting song by the band since 2005’s “Incomplete,” meaning Backstreet is not only back but at the top of their game once again.

“Chances” was released in November 2018 and is likely the track that will forever be most associated with DNA, like “I Want It That Way” was with Millennium. Written by a veritable committee of artists that includes Shawn Mendes, “Chances,” with its echo effects and late beat drop, comes in just under the 3-minute mark, making it perfect for today’s radio airwaves and shortened attention spans.

The third single, “No Place,” is similarly short and sweet, but feels distinctively less produced and effect-heavy than “Chances.” It also has a very endearing music video featuring the band’s families that combines with the smooth harmonies in the song to deliver the feel good, uplifting sentimentality that has always been a Backstreet Boys staple.

Overall, DNA bears the hand of Stuart Crichton, and that is not a bad thing at all. The native Scotsman has three 2019 Grammy nominations on his résumé, boasts an extensive career as a producer and writer spanning over two decades, including serious dance and popular music creds, and has worked with everyone from Kylie Minogue to Kygo to Toni Braxton. Listed as one of the producers on the majority of DNA’s songs and with writing credits on a few as well, Crichton is the Backstreet Boys’ modern-day Max Martin.

The album feels and sounds cohesive, checking off influences from EDM (“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”), country (“Just Like You Like It”), reggae (“OK”), and old school Backstreet (“No Place,” “Breathe”) along the way of its enjoyably condensed 40-minute total duration, which makes it the perfect companion for that morning commute when you are stuck in traffic and need tunes to sing along to.

The only notable exception to the cohesion is an odd song called “New Love” that is remarkably thin on substance, relying heavily on sampling of AJ grunting “oh yeah.” The lyrics also sound out of place, trading the mostly suggestive subtlety and romanticism that are the band’s traditional trademarks for oddly explicit mentions of “the sex police.”

Given that three years of work went into this album and the band presumably had hundreds of songs to choose from, “New Love” feels like an odd choice to include in the 12-song line-up. In one of the promotional videos for DNA the band was asked to name their least favorite song they ever recorded and unanimously voted for “If You Want It to Be Good Girl.” “New Love” is not quite that bad, but its omission likely would have made DNA the perfect album. The affront is made worse by the fact that “New Love” follows the impressive vocal-only “Breathe” that shows off each individual voice at their best, with sweeping notes and true old-school Backstreet Boys harmonies. (Oddly enough, the band’s last album, 2013’s In A World Like This, also featured a song called “Breathe,” which gave Kevin Richardson a rare chance to perform lead vocals on a track.)

Most tracks on DNA are carried by the voices of Nick, Brian, and AJ, as is tradition for the band, the three of them trading off verses and signature ad-libs. It is particularly nice to hear Brian’s soaring notes over the choruses and caramel final notes to many songs, following his well-documented struggles with Muscle Tension Dysphonia.

Standout tracks from the album other than the three singles released include “Is It Just Me,” “Chateau” (we’ll forgive its odd Hollywood-insider title, when it could have just been called “Baby I Want You Back”), and “Just Like You Like It.” The latter would need but a little tweak in production and it could feature on any current country music album by the likes of Dan + Shay or Thomas Rhett.

DNA’s title suggests what the content delivers: the album contains everything that makes the Backstreet Boys who they are. In that sense it really is the greatest album they have ever made; it is cohesive, harmonious, and quintessential Backstreet with a modern twist. If you don’t like at least one song off DNA, Backstreet Boys have never been for you and never will be. For everyone else: eat your heart out on this one.