Album of the Week: Backstreet Boys' 'DNA'

Backstreet Boys
Dennis Leupold

Backstreet Boys

The Backstreet Boys have spent the last two years mining nostalgia with their hits-filled Larger Than Life Las Vegas residency. But the album they’ve been working on in that time – DNA, the group’s 10th LP – is proof that they haven’t entirely been living in the past.

As evidenced with the album’s lead single, the pounding “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” DNA stays true to BSB’s harmony-driven pop sound while evolving their production to fit today’s radio landscape (and it worked so well, it earned the group their first Grammy nomination in 17 years and first Pop Songs hit in 11 years). That evolution carries throughout the rest of DNA’s 12 tracks, while also presenting Backstreet Boys’ most diverse set yet, with hints of R&B, country and funk.

DNA feels like the Backstreet Boys’ most mindful attempt to appeal to an audience that’s broader than the '80s and '90s babies who have carried their boy band obsessions into the 2010s. Though DNA may not be so transportive that it'll make people forget it's 2019 and not 1999, BSB were clearly looking to broaden their horizons -- from recruiting fresher cowriters (“Chances” was co-written by Shawn Mendes and Ryan Tedder; “Just Like You Like It” was co-written by Dustin Lynch and country juggernaut Ross Copperman) to incorporating a brass section on the playful “Passionate." And it works.

The variety in sound is also a testament to the Backstreet Boys’ progression, showing that they’re not afraid to push boundaries to find their lane in today’s pop sphere. For instance, some of the songs are reminiscent of recent hits: “Nobody Else” could be a Martin Garrix collaboration with its whimsical production; the opening piano riff on “Is It Just Me” brings to mind The Chainsmokers’ “Closer”; and “No Place” is a heartfelt acoustic jam that could give Dan + Shay's "Speechless" some competition on the country charts.

Yet, the more current sounds don’t overshadow the Backstreet Boys’ powerful voices. They’re each given their own time to shine on the album, and DNA includes plenty of those swoon-worthy harmonies that fans have loved since the beginning. There’s even an entirely a cappella tune, “Breathe” – the best showcase of BSB’s vocal abilities on DNA, and a reminder that they’ve still got the chops more than 25 years later.

The guys can still bring the sex appeal too, particularly on the sultry “New Love” that’s driven by an alluring bass line and equally deep (and very sensual) vocals. DNA has tacky lyrics at times (“Who are you? The sex police?” AJ quips on “New Love”), but that’s all part of the boy band charm that has made the Backstreet Boys so loveable over their decades-spanning career.

Even if 2019 Backstreet Boys don't see a hit as huge as "I Want It That Way" or "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)," it’s always been evident that they know their identity as a group no matter what year it is, and DNA declares that masterfully. The Backstreet Boys have become men – and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.