Backstreet Boys

Never Gone

Yup, the boys are back in town, although they would argue that they were never gone -- hence this cleverly titled comeback album. Like a boomerang to the head, the Orlando, Fla., quintet has returned, with pristine harmonies intact and a newfound maturity marked by the weighty presence of guitars, strings, and pianos. Not that this record is devoid of sugary, larger-than-life beats: "Just Want You to Know" should be sufficient to whisk die-hards back to the glory days of the late '90s. But here, the Boys sound more like Matchbox 20, their spry and slightly sophisticated brand of bubblegum replaced by something meatier but badly undercooked. They've traded in their polyester clown suits for sensible threads, and their latest singles won't be must-plays at middle-school dances. A good thing? Not necessarily.

 
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