Thursday, May 27, 2010

Backstreet's back, and they bring 'This Is Us'

By ALAN SCULLEY Correspondent
Published: Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.

Last Modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 8:41 a.m. 

A.J. McLean sounds fully prepared for the demands of touring this year with his bandmates in the Backstreet Boys.

"I'm in the best shape I've ever been in, so I can actually perform it and look good, too," McLean said in a recent phone interview.

He better be in shape. According to McLean, the current tour -- which includes a stop Monday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall -- requires more dancing from the Backstreet Boys than the show the group took on the road following the 2007 album "Unbreakable."

"We've got four extra dancers. And production-wise, we're doing like a bunch of different gags and stuff," McLean said. "It's going to be very theatrical, lots of dancing on our part. It's going to be very entertaining. It's going to be really, really entertaining and cool with all the old songs mixed in with the new ones."

The new music comes courtesy of "This Is Us," the CD the Backstreet Boys released last October. The album is an attempt to recapture the R&B-influenced dance-pop sound of the group's early albums, after a bit of a stylistic departure on its 2005 CD, "Never Gone" and "Unbreakable," which were more pop-oriented.
McLean, though, said the musical direction of the group wasn't the main reason "Unbreakable," in particular, was less than a smash.

"Honestly, the reason why it didn't do so well is because the songs weren't that good," McLean said.
Seeing lackluster album sales was a new experience for the Backstreet Boys, which was put together by music mogul Lou Pearlman in 1993.

Along with peers N'Sync, the Backstreet Boys (McLean, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson) rose to huge heights in the late 1990s behind the multi-platinum albums "Backstreet Boys" (1997) and "Millennium" (1999). The latter album became the best-selling album of 1999, with nearly 10 million copies sold.

But after the 2000 release of the next CD, "Black & Blue," things began to fray for the Backstreet Boys. The CD failed to match the popularity of "Millennium," and even more ominously, the group had to postpone the second leg of its tour when McLean checked into a rehab facility to confront his addiction to alcohol and problems with depression.

After the October 2001 release of "The Hits: Chapter One," the Backstreet Boys went on hiatus, and it wasn't until late 2003, when a clean and sober McLean went on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to share details of his addiction and recovery, that the group started making plans to enter the studio to make "Never Gone" and make a full-fledged return to action.
The group proved it hadn't lost its fan base, as its world tour was a success. But "Never Gone" -- while it topped one million copies sold -- failed to reach the heights of previous albums.

And in June 2006, Richardson announced he was leaving the Backstreet Boys. The remaining foursome, though, wasted little time moving forward, entering the studio to make "Unbreakable" just days after Richardson announced his departure.
That album, after debuting at No. 7 on "Billboard's" album chart, sank fast and fell out of the Top 100 two weeks later.

It's against this backdrop that "This Is Us" arrived last October.
In re-embracing its R&B/hip-hop roots, the Backstreet Boys teamed up with several A-list songwriters/producers to create songs for "This Is Us." RedOne was brought on board for the lead single, "Straight Through My Heart," and others that collaborated with the Backstreet Boys included T-Pain, Max Martin, Claude Kelly and Jim Jonsin.

"The goal is to outdo our past, but at the same time sort of just stay fresh and new," McLean said.