Showing 7 posts tagged 2005

The Backstreet Boys - Weird World (2005)

In retrospect, the Backstreet Boys’ move towards adult-oriented mellowpop was a savvy one in 2005. This was a time when the Fray, Aqualung and Keane were nabbing some sweet sensitive hits, and James Blunt and Daniel Powter were right around the corner. Mellowpop was all the rage in 2005, and it fit the Boys like a glove. Plenty of their early hits could be classified as AOR anyway, so why not go all-out adult? Despite its negative reception, Never Gone was a solid refinement of a sound the Backstreet Boys were already good at.

"Weird World" is Never Gone's most obvious attempt by the Boys to try something new. Written by Five For Fighting's John Ondrasik (a collaborator I don't think anybody expected a boy band to work with), it’s a soulful piece of piano pop featuring Nick Carter on lead. It may well be the most emphatically “adult” song on here: contented, genial, laid-back. Topical lyrics. “Back here it’s her and me, and we’re havin’ our first baby.” BSB knew that teens didn’t care about them anymore, so why bother catering to them? On “Weird World,” BSB take aim at their moms n dads instead, and they make a fine go of it.

I love “Weird World,” and it’s one of many reasons I find myself defending Never Gone every chance I get. It’s charming, assured, friendly. The Boys sound so comfortable here. Like they’re all hanging out in Kevin’s rumpus room together (Kevin is the one BSB member I can see having a rumpus room) drinking a few beers and singing together. Reminds me of later-period Hanson, and that’s about as high a compliment as I can give. They sound loose. They sound free.

And I’ve gotta say, I would never have expected a lead vocal this likable coming from brat-voiced Nick Carter. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked Nick’s voice, but on earlier BSB tracks he always sounded a little snottier and more nasal than his elder BSB brethren. He sounds better here. The break did him good. He’s matured into a fine singer.

"Weird World" is a fine display of Never Gone's charms. I understand if the rest of the album doesn't appeal to you as much, casual BSB fan - it's slower, a little more polished, lots of emotional power-choruses that might start to sound samey after awhile. I enjoy it, but I can see why you wouldn't. But Never Gone certainly didn’t deserve the outright dismissal it received from both critics and the public, and “Weird World” is ample evidence. It’s a sweet tune for your heart to enjoy. So enjoy!

The Backstreet Boys - Just Want You To Know (2005)

The Backstreet Boys weren’t the only folks who went into hiding after the Great Teen Pop Purge of 2002. Max Martin, Teen Pop’s Mighty King, had a temporary fall from grace as well. By 2002, his slick chorus-driven Europop had become obsolete. In order to survive, he needed to find another sound. But what? What??

2002-2004 were some shadowy years for ‘Ol Max. His only notable projects were a few tracks on Nick Carter’s failed 2002 solo album, and a 2003 Celine Dion album that nobody remembers. All seemed lost until Max was saved by megaboss American Idol star Kelly Clarkson, who recorded the Max Martin-penned “Since U Been Gone” and ruled the summer of 2005. After a brief respite, Max was a Pop God again, ready to begin the second phase of his dominant hitmaking career.

"Since U Been Gone" became the most beloved Max composition since "I Want It That Way," but for very different reasons. The world-crushing chorus hooks were intact, but hey - there were guitars and heavy drums and rock n roll!! Even the hip kids couldn’t resist it. This was the sound Max found the most success with, and one that would define the latter half of 2000s mainstream pop.

And wow, isn’t it nice that the Backstreet Boys happened to be in an upswing right when their mentor was too? Perfect! “Just Want You To Know” is Max trying out his new rock-pop formula on Backstreet, and the results are so much fun. The Boys have never had a chance to sing an over-the-top rock chorus, and you can tell they’re loving it. Martin’s given them some big choruses before, sure, but there’s a real thrill in hearing the Boys shout “I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW!!!” while the Big Rock Drums come crashing in.

Max co-wrote three other songs for Never Gone, most of which were quite good (ballads “I Still” and “Siberia” are a couple of personal faves). Sadly, this would be the last Backstreet record to feature multiple Max Martin tracks. Following releases would either feature one sole Max track, or - oh no! - none at all.

I mean, I can’t fault the guy. He was busy becoming the Hit Man for acts like Pink and Katy Perry. The Ol’ Boys were no longer the hitmakers they used to be. He didn’t have time for them. Sad. The end of one of pop’s most beautiful relationships. At least we still have the rockin’ glory of “Just Want You To Know” to lift our spirits.

THE VIDEO: Oh jeez. Far and away my favorite Backstreet video, and one of my favorite music videos ever. Backstreet parodying Heavy Metal Parking Lot? Dressing up in goofy glam-metal getups and belting the song out in their car? Nick turning in a Tim Heidecker-esque comedic performance?? I didn’t expect this! The Backstreet Boys tend to be pretty morose in their videos so this is a wonderful surprise. Sweet, funny, perfect. It’s a shame this song wasn’t a hit at all!!

Day 3: The Backstreet Boys 2005-2007 - Boys To Men

And so, the Backstreets were gone. Gone, gone, gone for almost a full three years. Gosh, that’s a long time for a teen group to not be around. Three whole years! Just enough time for, say, one of their 13 year old fans to forget about them, turn 16 and sell their neglected copy of Black & Blue for the new Fall Out Boy CD. Times changed and changed hard.

But after all those years of being definitely gone, the Boys came out of hiding and released an album called Never Gone in mid-2005. Kind of a rough title for a record, yes? It’s as if the Boys were nervously tapping on the shoulder of America’s Youth. “Erm, ahhh, we’re still here! Hi there! Would you like to hear, ah, some of our new tunes? Hello??”

The Boys emerged to strange new times in 2005. Teen pop had been eaten alive by hungry modern solo artists. Pop music had grown more complex, more fractured. Justin Timberlake’s Justified effectively killed off the boy band era for good. Outkast and Kanye scrambled up modern hip hop and pushed 2000s popular music into an exciting new direction. Coldplay and Wilco forever mellowed popular rock. And teens’ fickle hearts turned to their new masters: the heart-tugging emo-pop of My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco. In just three short years, the veritable Teen Utopia (teentopia?) the Backstreet Boys had created had crumbled and fallen.

So what the heck were they gonna do? Well, they did everything they could: they stopped dancing, used live instrumentation only, and turned into a Ballad Band for Adults.

Now, this might sound like a cringe-worthy move. I love many Backstreet ballads, but their first three records are full of slow snoozers that don’t do a whole lot. The idea of BSB being a sour adults-only band is an upsetting idea for a lot of people.

Those people would include critics! Whoa, critics hated Never Gone. Check out its average reviews on Wikipedia and you’ll see countless one and two star judgments. Rolling Stone famously gave it only one star, saying that “the Backstreet men rarely accelerate beyond a midtempo thud.” Oof!

It fascinates me, seeing how many of these publications paid attention to Never Gone just for the sake of trashing it. The Boys’ teen-era albums got mixed reviews, but they were kind of untouchable at the time. I feel like critics saw Never Gone as a chance to kick the Boys while they were down, a bit of welcome revenge after the deluge of Dreaded Pop they had to deal with all those years ago. What’s sadder is that close to none of these publications would pay mind to anything Backstreet released since. In the narrative of Rolling Stone and its ilk, Never Gone was the last BSB record worth caring about, and only as a dud joke.

Not warranted, I say! Not in the slightest. I enjoy the heck out of Never Gone, and I argue that it was their strongest full-length release at the time. The adult-bore tones can get tiresome, sure, but the songs are solid and there’s more variation than you might expect. It’s the first Backstreet record that feels like the Boys breaking out of their teen-pop shell, ignoring expectations and making the music they want to make. And they sound a WHOLE lot happier than they did on Black & Blue, which in itself is worthy of recognition.

If you please, I would like to talk about a couple gems from this nice, under-recognized record. Before that, take a look at Never Gone's sole hit and their first single since “Drowning,” the languid rock-ballad “Incomplete.”

THE VIDEO: Boy Band Grittification 101: put them in a video with a gas station, a desert, and a burning thing. VOILA

Fireman - Lil Wayne

On “Soldier” Lil Wayne was just a feature, but this was the first song that made me take notice of him. Even though “Go DJ” was more popular than “Fireman”, the year between the two songs saw me starting to really pay attention to music a lot more by keeping up with the Billboard Charts, the various pop and rap stations in Charlotte, North Carolina, and appreciating the few years when MTV still feigned to care about music videos (R.I.P. TRL). I remember “Go DJ”, but “Fireman” and its video was where I really came to notice this guy named Lil Wayne.

In terms of rap clichés like women, guns and obnoxious displays of monetary wealth, Lil Wayne’s career has progressed significantly since, and his interests in money and guns have really given way to more personal relationships. But in “Fireman” Lil Wayne is still having fun describing his possessions such as “my chain Toucan Sam that, tropical colors you can’t match that, gotta be abstract”. With his heavy emphasize on the final syllables of each word, some of the smoothness from those lines is lost when read, not rapped. The song is kind of a forgotten hit-single in Lil Wayne’s discography, but for me it’s the first song where even if I wasn’t focusing on his lyrics, his unique voice and drawl was something I had to notice, even though I never forgot the line “Quick Draw McGraw, I went to Art School”.

These are pictures I took (yes, with my phone - sorry for the low quality) from that first show I saw in 2005 (see - I wasn’t lying when I said the stage was a PINK TRUCK.)

I love looking back at these now and just thinking about how far they’ve come. It’s been an amazing ride - and it’s not even close to over yet.

Paramore - “Whoa”

Ok, so back to August 10, 2005…now that I’ve told you how I wound up at Warped Tour, it’s time to tell the story of how I first saw Paramore.

I go to Warped Tour every year (or have since The Get Up Kids show in…whatever year that was…2001?) Anyway, one of my favorite things to do at Warped is wander. I LOVE the fact that I can hear so many new bands on tiny stages all over the dusty parking lot (because Warped is, inevitably, always in a really hot, really dusty parking lot.) So, when I’m not seeing the bands I know going in I have to see - and typically early in the day - I wander. I look at the handwritten signs and flyers plastered all over the venue and I head from stage to stage seeing what will catch my ear.

On August 10, this flyer caught my eye. Now you’ll notice that’s not actually a flyer. It’s actually an album cover - specifically, the cover of Paramore’s first album, All We Know Is Falling. I had no idea at the time, but it had come out two weeks prior (on July 26th to be exact) and that cover was EVERYWHERE at Warped. Scrawled on each one was a stage name - the “Shiragirl stage” and a time - from what I remember, it was 1:30.

I still don’t know for sure why that red couch caught my eye, other than that it was everywhere. Considering everything that’s happened since - and my faith (we’re going to be talking more about that later too, so be ready…) - I often tell myself I was led to go see Paramore that day. If you believe what I believe, you can probably buy into that. If you don’t, just tell yourself it was luck or a really eye-catching red couch. Either way, it changed my life. Not like getting married or having kids changed my life - we’re not quite at that scale - but take a step down from that and you’re right there. Anyway, I just knew that at 1:30, I was going to head over to the Shiragirl Stage and see who this Paramore band was.

The Shiragirl “Stage” was a stage in the LOOSEST sense of the word. It was the back of a truck. A rather small truck. The side folded down and voila! Stage. Zac (Paramore’s drummer) was INSIDE the truck. Josh, Jason and John (I’m not going to write a ton about Paramore’s member changes - you can read all that on Wikipedia or somewhere else. If you’re hoping I’m going to give you some sort of insight into internal drama, you’ll have to look for that elsewhere too. If you’re hoping I’ll continue to overuse paranthetical expressions, you’ve come to the right place.) Anyway, Josh, Jason and John had to duck to avoid hitting their heads on the top of the truck. The entire thing BOUNCED up and down and looked close to collapse throughout most of the set. The sound was what you’d expect from a pink truck. The TRUTH (anti-smoking) campaign DRONED on at top volume throughout their set. And yet, from the very first notes of a song I then didn’t know and now can’t remember (yes, that’s right - I CAN’T REMEMBER THE FIRST SONG I HEARD THEM PLAY), I was absolutely, 100% blown away.

I’ve been to hundreds of shows in my life. I’ve seen probably thousands of bands at this point, including tons I’d never heard of before walking into that club or amphitheatre or arena that night. I’ve seen John Mayer OPEN for Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) in front of 100 people in a tiny club in Charlottesville, VA. I’ve seen Oasis play for 300 people in what is now the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC (but then was a decrepit dump called Radio Music Hall) right after Definitely Maybe came out. (That show left me deaf - completely DEAF - for 3 days by the way.) I’ve seen bands I’d never heard of before the show blow me away and make me a lifetime fan (Steel Train opening for The Format, take a bow…) But none of that was like this. From the very first minute of the very first song I heard, the following thoughts went through my head:

1) Holy &*#@, these kids are YOUNG.

2) Holy &*#@, these kids are GOOD.

3) Holy &*#@, this girl can SING.

4) Holy &*#@, this band is going to be HUGE.

It’s easy to tell you why I thought the first three things - you can see it in that “Born For This” video I posted earlier - and even three years before that, on a tiny stage on the back of a truck, Paramore still ROCKED. I can’t tell you why I thought the fourth thing exactly - but I’ve never felt that way, before or since, about any other band I’ve seen. I just KNEW there was something special - really special - about these kids. So, of course, I went right over after the set and started talking to them and we became best friends that day and that’s the end of the story…WRONG. You underestimate my extreme and ridiculous shyness. I went over, bought the CD from…I think Josh sold it to me…mumbled “great show” and left. And then proceeded to listen to All We Know Is Falling about 1,000 times over the next month. Meeting them - and getting to know them - would have to wait a little while longer.

But back to that show. There were maybe 50 people watching their set that day. Maybe some of them knew the songs - certainly, there were people who had heard of Paramore before and even seen them play live - and some of them were probably there. But one song stood out. “Whoa” isn’t the best song on AWKIF. It’s not even my favorite song on AWKIF. But it’s the song that stood out live that day - and one listen to the chorus will tell you why. Whether it’s 50 people or 50,000 - when you shout “Whoa” and throw your fist in the air live, the song just works. 

And the line “And we’ve got everybody singing” - in a lot of ways, that sums up, for me, what Paramore is about - what the band has created - with their fans and with their music. This is a band that cares - truly cares - about their fans and the community - the bond - they’ve built with them. And that bond is - for me at least - most strongly expressed at the shows - when everyone IS singing.

"Whoa" was the song I rocked out (and rocked out is really the only appropriate term) to on the ride home - the one I remembered best from my first exposure live. I’d grow to love "Franklin" and "My Heart" and "Never Let This Go" and "Conspiracy" more, but "Whoa" was the first song I loved by Paramore. "Whoa" was the song that started it all for me.