Sonic Shuffle: Brian and the Boys

The Darkside is and always will be more than just a blog.  It’s a community.  It isn’t owned by anyone.  It is comprised of many individual fans that have continued to stick together because we recognize an immovable fact: we are all fucking weird.

We are mostly adult men and women that legitimately enjoy spending every waking moment discussing the Backstreet Boys.  I could talk about the Backstreet Boys for every waking moment of my existence and I will never feel as if I have cheated myself out of anything this world has to offer.  So while I do not consider myself a Backstreet Boys expert, exactly, of all the non-experts I think I’d rank.  So would the members of The Darkside’s forum.  And when you get a bunch of quasi-specialists together and talk about the topic they are most interested in, you start to realize how granular discussions can become.

One of the most widely debated topics over the last four years has been about Brian and his struggles with muscular tension dysphonia and dystonia.  Rose did a fantastic job outlining the timeline of Brian’s case, the details regarding the conditions, and examples of other singers that have dealt with a similar issue.  There was such an outpouring of love thanks to her work, that we did a follow up post just to say how much we love Brian Thomas Littrell.  I am on that train.  I am so on that train that I could be the conductor.  I could not be more supportive of one of the members of my favorite group in the world.  This post isn’t really about Brian at all in the sense that we know he is committed to doing whatever he can to be at his best.  But I did think it was time to explore what sorts of strategies might be employed to help ease the burden he’s been shouldered with for many years.

At first, discussions about Brian’s voice were focused on what exactly was going on.  No one really had insight into his condition but we all – being the non-experts but totally experts that we are – knew something had changed.  There are fans on the TDS forum that have pulled background vocals from albums just to count harmonies, so we are as serious about their music as any other musical fandom (a fact that I begrudge people for being surprised about).  Now that we’re all properly educated about what he’s dealing with, however, the focus has shifted to how the Boys can support Brian and still deliver top notch performances.

Did everyone see the Boys on The Best Time Ever?  Their performance of I Want It That Way wasn’t one that I would consider their best. Besides the awful microphone issues and the fact that Neil Patrick Harris was standing entirely too close to something I love, Brian struggled a bit at the start until… something happened.  He took over a part that normally belongs to Nick.  You know the part.  It’s the part we all try to belt out but can’t without sounding like we’re dying animals.  The big, swooping ‘don’t want to hear you sayyyyyyyyy!’ line that kicks off the final act of a song that will survive endless generations of pop music fans.  Nick has become accustomed (to our dismay!) to allowing the crowd to handle that lyric, so no one was reasonably expecting them to sing it without him.  Until Brian did.  And it was fucking amazing.  Brian took all the power he’s mustered up during the beautiful sweeping chorus of In A World Like This and knocked that line so far out of the park that fans were actually questioning if he shouldn’t sing it from now on.

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So here we are: having a discussion about a member of our favorite group who is battling some vocal issues and the fans are ON BOARD with him taking over parts from Nick Carter.

I couldn’t agree more with this.  Why?  Because it makes too much sense to ignore.  It makes sense to swap out parts that are inherently easier for your vocalists to handle.  It makes sense to rearrange and redistribute parts of songs that will enhance the quality of the vocals and the confidence of each Boy.

The Boys’ schedule over the past decade has been dizzying.  Even the last five years alone have been a whirlwind of rolling out albums, tours, and cruises.  It’s unbelievable they’ve all survived at this pace. I know I barely have (“I agree with you.” – my wallet).  Brian’s issues cannot have been helped by the go-go-go approach.  Now, we aren’t complaining because that would mean less BSB and no one is down for that.  But I feel badly for the guy!  He’s over here dealing with this devastating condition that’s impacting his personal and professional life on a level I could not ever understand.  It must feel like Mozart going deaf levels of tragedy.  The fact that he’s kept going through it all is astounding. The respect level that I have for him and how he’s carried himself throughout the entire ordeal is beyond anything I’ve ever felt for a recording artist.

But the Boys are a group of five and there have been moments where it seems like they’re leaning on Brian to be more than just one of the group.  And that sucks, especially for him.  We all saw an example of it in the Backstreet Boys documentary, Show Em What You’re Made Of.  Nick basically tells Brian that he looks at him as the star of the show and that he needs to get back to what he was.  I was sitting there thinking, ‘damn, no pressure!!!’ I mean, the Boys have talked about being five strong singers from the get-go, and it’s been a point of pride for me as a fan to agree wholeheartedly with that statement.

Now, though, it almost seems like the other guys are worried about what the Boys can achieve without Brian being what he was a decade earlier when he carried the vocals on Never Gone (go listen to that album – it’s the Brian Littrell show and it’s wonderful).  That worries me as a fan because… why are you Boys worried?!  Brian has already shown that he can handle HUGE vocal parts, they’re just different from those that he’s carried in the past.  His range and the sweet spot where his voice shines now is altered.  It isn’t gone, it’s still there.  It’s just different now.  So what do you do?  Change your approach in the studio and give him all those amazing mother effing parts and start covering areas he used to cover with other vocalists. In fact, I want to hear you writing more of those amazing mother effing parts just so he can show off because it gives me goosebumps every time he nails those soaring notes.

Howie’s developed a nice lower range over the last few years.  We heard it on Unbreakable, which remains an underrated album of music according to the non-experts here at TDS. He and Kevin are still as of the last album release, getting the least number of verses/bridges/vocal parts (someone at TDS counted every vocal part on In A World Like This and no I’m not kidding).  Maybe we shuffle up the old formula a little bit to fold those two in more on lower verses.  Maybe Brian and Howie swap out some of the latter’s higher parts for Brian to cover.

If the Boys believe there are any fans out there that will stop buying their albums or going to see their shows if they make some small changes to their delivery of the music, they are bat shit crazy.  The Backstreet Army has been here for 20 years and counting, and those of us that are left aren’t going anywhere.  It’s safe to experiment, we promise.  It’s safe to say ‘maybe we do this song we’ve been singing for 15 years slightly differently going forward’ and we won’t be mad about it.  We understand. We know your vocals down to the finest of details better than some of your writers/producers.  In fact, I’d say the only people that know more about them are the five members of the group.

The point of this post isn’t to say we’re mad or angry or annoyed by the group, it’s merely to reinforce our support and ask that they give us a little more credit as fans.  We hear you, fellas, better than anyone else out there.  No matter what you throw our way, we’re gonna be happy to listen.  But don’t be afraid to test out new arrangements because of fear.  Don’t feel the need to put pressure on a guy that’s given this group everything he’s had, even when he’s been hurting.  Brian has been a key cog in the is machine from day one and he’s going to keep being that going forward.  It’s a matter of putting him in a position to win and other vocalists in the group stepping up and accepting one Boy can’t be held to a higher standard than the rest.

Do you guys hate me for writing this post?  Tell me why I suck in the comments below or hop over to TDS to yell at all of us for even talking about this.

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2 thoughts on “Sonic Shuffle: Brian and the Boys

  1. Pingback: The Next Era | The Dark Side Of Backstreet

  2. Pingback: The Backstreet Bell Curve: Make Your Own Album | The Dark Side Of Backstreet

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