For a lot of fans, when you mention the This Is Us album, you might get an unintentional debate started. Or you might get some face palming action. You could also get a grin and the reluctant admittance they enjoy the album. Opinions on this album are pretty varied in my experience in the fandom, actually. It’s ironic because the only other album where you get that diverse set of reactions so strongly is Never Gone. In a glance I suppose it’s hard to see why. The 2005 record was the one where the Boys came back from a hiatus and swore they were cutting back on the harmonies (Howie’s words, not mine), and taking a new path. An “organic” one. (Kevin’s words that time). The 2009 record was the one where the Boys were doing their second album as a quartet. In a way we expected them to go along the path of Unbreakable – now that they had been a foursome for a few years, they knew their new identity…right?
Perhaps they did. That’s what they claimed. In repeated interviews they were saying they needed to return to their roots. They wanted to return to the rnb styled pop that had made them famous. (Really had they forgotten the Jack Swing influences? I guess that’s another debate though.) I personally was thrilled. I’ll give more detail in a future post but Unbreakable is what kept me in the fandom. Never Gone on the other hand had disillusioned me. Thanks to a cousin living on a base in Europe, I’d been a fan of the Boys going all the way back to the Red Album. Of course I wanted them to return to those fun harmonic pop songs!
This was also the album where Nick took the wheel in a lot of ways. It was no secret he busted his ass recruiting every popular producer he could find. He rebuilt relationships that had been tarnished either by Backstreet’s reputation, or Jive records. Rumors were flying about what was coming. Nick may not have put in the best way in this 2009 interview from Entertainment Weekly, but it got me excited none the less. I even put the quote in my siggy during the LiveDaily days as proof this was the style they were aiming for. (Okay, I was an instigator at times.)
“When we first got together, what was it that influenced us? It was R&B music. We thought we were black.”
The album we got was entirely different than any of us expected, however. A lot of songs leaked during that era which we’d for the most part gotten used to. Many of them didn’t make it and I often wonder if that’s why so many dislike the album as much as they do. There were so many gems – my personal favorite was a NeYo track named Trouble. It was catchy, with a great hook and outstanding vocals. It still irks me they didn’t use this song. But this era was also the last of the Jive albums and later words from the Boys hint that had a lot to do with songs being cut or kept.
I’ll be honest; this album is a bit of a cheese fest. The way Kevin put Straight Through My Heart is that the song sounds dangerous; the song sounds dark, and then the chorus in the opposite direction and is all bouncy. I’m paraphrasing but that’s more or less what he said at the 2014 BSB Cruise concert. He’s not entirely wrong. Produced by RedOne – it’s upbeat and one of the danciest songs the Boys have ever done. The name is the biggest mistake, if you want attention and you’re a boyband…don’t title any more songs with the word “heart”. “Soldier Down” would’ve been better and I wish they’d gone with that. You want more cheese? Then we have All of Your Life. I’m embarrassed when I admit I like this song so much. My brain’s a scary place though and it could be because I see it as an anime song while anime versions of the Boys jump around dancing crazily. It’s so happy feeling. I love listening to it.
In terms of forgetful songs there’s two – Bigger and If I Knew Then. Bigger is even cheesier. It’s a Max Martin track and along with Just Want You To Know ties as the two most disliked songs he’s ever given them. Max Martin can be a songwriting legend sometimes. But I don’t think so here. The ironies of course being the video for Bigger is my favorite music video they’ve done since Black and Blue; and that Max’s next song for the Boys: In A World Like This was the best song he’s given them in years – since I Still¸really. The song is a snoozer though live I don’t mind it so much. On the other hand, If I Knew Then is a song I used to love but now it’s a skipper for a reason I’m not too sure of. PDA had the opposite problem, you can’t forget it. PDA was a great concept, becoming raunchier with their now adult fans. But the um, follow through was well hilarious. No guys, we don’t wanna do it in the Navajo. But I still like listening to it just for the giggles.
One thing you need to note on this album is Nick. In 2006 he’d said on the disaster known as House of Carters he was taking vocal lessons. Whoa did they show on this album. Look up any and I mean any performance of This Is Us (the song) and you’ll see what I mean. His voice was incredible on this album. The perfect example of this is, like I said, the title track. Produced by Jim Jonsin it really showed the group at their strengths and I don’t know why they haven’t worked with him again. Especially since he got them a Pitbull feature on the unreleased track Helpless. (Another example of why I’m SO glad Jive is gone. Talk about wasted opportunities!)
Masquerade goes back to the cheese factor but it’s got a slight edge to it in the style. Might be because of Brian Kennedy, the producer. Brian hates the song but for whatever reason I tend to love the ones he hates, like Something That I Already Know and Soldier, so go figure. Speaking of Brian, have you heard him on Shattered? His vocals on that song (all versions) are INSANE! I’ve dubbed them as hallelujah vocals cause it makes me want to go to church and praise that gift of his. They are unreal. Undone is the darkest song on this otherwise really light and melodic album. But it’s the best for last really. It’s got a great vibe, great vocals; everything about that song is smooth as silk. Kevin joked “man it’s the best song the group’s ever done and I’m not even on it” at the BSB Cruise. It’s definitely one of the best midtempos I’ve heard from them in ages. Josh Hoge, come back. Write more songs for the Boys.
So…I saved the most “controversial” song for last. She’s a Dream. There is SO MUCH hate for this song. So. Much. It’s weird to me. Most people say it’s because of the lyrics. Okay they are pretty laughable. Mainly because if “Shawty” was old enough to date a BSB, she grew up in the nineties like us. Which means unless she’s an alien, she’s lying like hell about not knowing who they are. There are the autotune effects courtesy of T-Pain who worked with them on this track. But guys, guys, guys. The harmonies in this song are beautiful, especially live. The melody is pretty. Plenty of good songs have bad lyrics. Do I really need to bring up I Want It That Way? Sometimes a good melody and great vocals can make a song good. I’m not saying it’s the best song that’s ever been done but I do think it gets some undeserved fate.
Here’s the thing about This Is Us. I’ve had this theory more people like it than will admit it. I’ve seen people who claim to hate it still manage to know the songs by heart and sing along if it comes on. It’s a very fluffy album. I won’t deny that. There’s no depth to the songs – with the exception of one or two. I’ll admit to that too. But it’s like candy. Sometimes you want candy. Sometimes you want fluffy pop. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing. You can like it and it should be okay to admit it. Guilty pleasures exist for a reason. I always enjoy this album. I might get flack for it but hey, it’s my Backstreet guilty pleasure. A fandom that in and of itself is a guilty pleasure to the rest of the world! So stand up and be proud you like this album! If this album never happened, who’s to say we’d have Kevin back right now? He likes songs from this record. You can too.
You might already like it… but hey, now you can say so without shame.