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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

THIS IS US TOUR: Backstreet Boys: All Grown Up, But Still Boys To Us

Backstreet's back - again.

Okay, so it's not like the Backstreet Boys went anywhere. Well, one did, actually: Kevin Richardson bailed in 2006 to pursue other interests, endeavours that no doubt excluded being chased down the street by screaming hordes of tweens.

But 17 years after the quintet formed in Florida and 13 years after they burst on to American charts with their eponymous debut, the remaining Boys -now a quartet of 30-something men - continue to defy pop music's inherent Law of Disposability (see Blackstreet, No Mercy, Ace of Base).

"I think it comes down to the material," says B-Boy Brian Littrell. "If you look at our catalogue over the years, we've had some amazing songwriters and amazing producers that we've been able to work with in our career. The songs that we've sung in the past have staying power.

"It's the songs and the dedication from the fans that has enabled us to stay relevant."

Littrell also points to the fact that people seem drawn to feel-good pop music, particularly in trying times. "In sad times, you know, the economy's not doing so great, the world's trying to rebound and I think people are looking for stability in their lives.

"I think they can find that with our music and I hope they can continue to find that."

He's not suggesting that the Backstreet Boys' latest album can magically alleviate economic strife. After all, unless you're somehow connected creatively to This Is Us, buying it certainly won't improve your financial situation. Neither will shelling out significant bones for the supporting concert.

Caveats aside, though, it's the group's seventh straight top-10 album (Billboard). And with collective album sales reportedly topping 100 million worldwide, they're one of the biggest-selling acts, ever. And that should make the Boys -and their fans -feel pretty good, finances notwithstanding.

"We're blown away to still have the fan base continue to support the band," says Littrell. "We're very grateful for that."

Fervent followers will also appreciate the group's return to the formula that launched them so effectively into the stratosphere all those years ago.

"When you go back to the Never Gone CD that came out in 2004/05, it had more of a pop-rock edge to it," he says. "The first song off that record, called Incomplete, really blew up on radio, and a lot of people didn't even know that it was us.

"Now fast-forward to This Is Us and I think we've rediscovered that pocket of Euro-dance-pop flavour ... If you think about the songs that were on our very first record, it's really the Backstreet Boys doing what we do best, hopefully, and that's dance-pop music with a Euro flare, and a little R&B influence as well."

To get it right, the group enlisted the talents of a variety of producers, including Max Martin, RedOne and auto-tune enthusiast, T-Pain.

"It was great to work with T-Pain ... he's had an amazing run with his unique sound. But the guys we've worked with for many years, like Max Martin, really understand the sound of the Backstreet Boys."

Martin has collaborated with the Boys since the beginning. And it's not much of a stretch to make the creative leap to RedOne, who's also based in Sweden and, as it happens, is a huge fan of thegroup. ButT-Pain?

"He lives right down the street from me in Atlanta," says Littrell. "We're friends."

Littrell's quick to point out that, while many don't view the Boys as urban singers or songwriters, they still had plenty of urban influences growing up.

"I mean, we wanted to be Boyz II Men and New Edition when we were young kids," he says with a laugh. "Working with T-Pain, obviously you're going to get a track that really goes after urban radio, that pushes the envelope and I think it's good for us. It makes people turn their head."

He adds: "There's a certain magic that we have with our voices together that people recognize. You know, we're not the greatest singers in the world, but I think when we team up and we're singing the right songs, it is magical in a way.

"Again, it's about the music. As long as we focus on making ourselves better as we grow older, you know, we can break down barriers and transcend generations. Somewhat wistfully, Littrell echoes Bob Dylan's paean to youth: "They call me a Backstreet Boy but I'm a father, husband. I'm 35 years old but I'll forever be young ... Hopefully there will be more top-10 records to come."

Barring breakup, probably a foregone conclusion.

Backstreet Boys perform Aug. 16 at 8 p.m. at the Bell Centre, with Shawn Desman and Dan Talevski. Tickets cost $49.50 to $69.50. Call 514-790-2525 or go to

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