Never Gone

Under the teen-pop beats and R&B-trained harmonies, Bon Jovi-style bombast has often lurked beneath the Backstreet Boys' surface. Now that boy-band dance grooves have vanished from radio airwaves, the urge to rock out in a superslick power ballad kinda way dominates Never Gone, the first album in five years from Kevin Richardson, Brian Littrell, Howie Dorough, A.J. McLean and Nick Carter. Never Gone never attains the dizzy heights of previous hits and never reaches far enough toward new territory: The lead single, "Incomplete," borrows enough from Coldplay's piano atmospherics to be both halfway decent and disturbingly crass, and Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik contributes "Weird World," which suggests Ben Folds without the wit. Whether working with their original Swedish Svengali, Max Martin, or platinum producers like John Shanks (Michelle Branch, Kelly Clarkson), the Backstreet men rarely accelerate beyond a midtempo thud. And with all the millions they've made, can't the Backstreet organization afford someone to write better titles than "My Beautiful Woman" and "Poster Girl"?

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