The Uncertainty of Unbreakable

I really like doing these posts. Settle in though, because this is going to be a lengthy one.

I don’t know if I’ve told you guys my like methodology for writing these when I reflect back onto an album. I basically have it on repeat – no shuffle, no skips. I listen to it as it was put out, on repeat. Sometimes I’ll go pull up a few videos. Mainly, I try to remember what my mindset was as a fan when that era was going on. I know I eventually talk about how I see it today as well, but I feel like getting both perspectives is important. So far I’ve talked about This Is Us, I’ve talked about Never Gone and let’s not forget my post on Black and Blue. Not to mention the solo series posts. It’s kind of like analyzing your favorite show to death with other hard core fans knowing they’d understand – only the music version. I go on and on, and in the end I’m thankful you guys seem to read and enjoy these ongoing thoughts of mine.

It occurred to me in one of my recent posts that I personally haven’t done one on Unbreakable and it’s a little surprising. Because that era was a pretty odd time in the fandom. What I remember most in that time was the uncertainty. There was a lot I had questions about as a fan. There were a lot of threads on LiveDaily back when that still existed, wondering if this album would even come to be. It wasn’t like now where we’re confident the Boys aren’t going anywhere. In fact if any era resembled the Black and Blue era the most, this was it. Why? Because Kevin had just left the group. Sure they said they were going to go on as a quartet but we were still in shock that Kevin left. You know? The recording process was also happening during the, okay I’m trying to find a nice way to put this…interesting time that was the airing of House of Carters. In fact we saw Nick putting down his vocals for Nowhere To Go on the show, which was a bonus track in some countries. Not to mention they had a meeting with management which spurred the infamous “blurry Brian” moment.

Really the sum of it was, we as fans had no idea what was going to happen.

Ironically, it was probably their fastest recording period of the “new” albums. By “new” I mean any album past their peak, or heyday at that time. (So basically – I’m grouping Unbreakble, This Is Us, NKOTBSB, and In A World Like This all together while keeping the European Debut, the US Debut, Backstreet’s Back, Millennium, Black and Blue and Never Gone in the first group if that makes sense to you guys. Like I said, this upcoming untitled album I’ll likely have as the start of another group since they’re clearly peaking again.) When you think about it, their tour for Never Gone went on into the beginning of 2006, and that’s also when they were recording. Hell, Kevin didn’t even till June of that year. Yet within the span of a year they were able to churn out an album.

And honestly? It’s an album of the time. I think the Boys were trying to sort out who they were as a group without Kevin. I know fans were trying to as well. This album felt like an identity crisis and that’s not a bad thing. You have to remember the previous album had them doing a sound they’d never done before and had pretty much abandoned since. Unbreakable had a country song, it had songs proudly displaying harmonies, it had dance songs. It even had a song penned by NSYNC’s JC Chasez which never would’ve happened during the 90s. I would say the album was pretty schizophrenic because it didn’t quite settle on a style of any sort. As a fan I sort of felt like they were throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck.

On top of this you had three leads and then Howie.

Now before Howie girls get mad at me, I’m saying this because Howie got shafted on leads. It’s been true since the beginning. Kevin had been left out too. You could get away with that when there’s five members, but you can’t leave out one when there’s only four of you. This was the album that really showcased the strengths of Howie more than ever before. Truthfully speaking, this was the era that Howie got my full on attention. I always loved him, I always appreciated him. But yeah, this was where I was like holy shit how have I been ignoring Howie all these years? (PS – I’m really sorry Howie. Young me was stupid and blind not to notice you.) Not to mention the harmonies themselves changed, they had to. A key part was missing and I admittedly it wasn’t as full as what any of us were used to. But that was by my standards as a BSB fan, they still managed to outshine any other boyband around because honestly those voices are fire.

I think my favorite part is that they bookended the album. You start off with this gorgeous a capella introduction from Unsuspecting Sunday Afternoon and the editions without any bonus tracks end with the actual song of that name. They never did that before and annoyingly, have never done that since. I would love for them to bring this idea back. Seriously. Show off your skills Boys, it’s a treat for us. I also hate that they’ve never done that a capella or that song live. They had the perfect opportunity to during the tour yet didn’t. Teases. Giant teases. Unsuspecting is so underrated it about kills me.

I also came back into this post (after thinking I was done) to talk about Dan Muckala. He’s the songwriter and producer who was behind Incomplete. He produced at least half the album and to this day has a great relationship with the Boys mainly because of this album I think. The strongest songs unsurprisingly came from him. I don’t think he gets enough credit when it comes to the songs he’s given the group cause I feel he’s always given them the best material he has at the time.

Years later, there’s songs I skip on this album if I’m not trying to listen to it in full like I am here. Everything But Mine is a favorite of mine though. Why? I think it’s the vibe of the song. The lyrics are actually pretty great. To this day I feel they should’ve released this as a single instead of Inconsolable. At one point I know they considered it as they were performing this song overseas despite them not singing it here in the states. I looked on YouTube to link but all I found was a fifteen second clip not worth sharing, but I swear it happened.

Walking along the sky, Chasing a glimpse of you…Painting a world with stars I found inside your eyes – How can you not love the imagery there? Plus the beat, the vocals? Can we talk about the fact Nick had gotten vocal lessons for this album so he could make sure his voice was back in top shape? Because he did. He even said so on House of Carters. And I have to admit it really freaking shows.

Inconsolable was great to me at the time because it was a return to form. As a fan who was upset but the style of their previous album, I wasn’t sure I was going to stay in the fandom. More uncertainty and I wasn’t the only fan who felt this way. After Happily Never After leaked (though it never made the album) that song and Inconsolable are what convinced me to stick around. The harmonies I loved weren’t going anywhere, the melodies I adored weren’t going anywhere. Brian’s voice truly does soar on that song.

Since you know how I felt about their pop/rock direction as a group, you might be surprised to hear I really enjoyed Helpless When She Smiles but I did. It’s got a haunting vibe to it and it never bugged me that another artist recorded it as well. You know what bugs me? THE MUSIC VIDEO. They are literally just standing on a field for three minutes of nothing else. The song itself lends itself to so many possibilities and THAT was what they did? I was furious. Thank God they got over the whole standing in a field thing in 2018. Next let’s talk about Unmistakable. Maybe you’ll get when I mean when I say that song is otherworldly. Because that’s how it feels when I listen to it, and it’s beautiful.

The last two standouts on this album I feel were Panic and One In A Million. There’s no bad songs on this but the others I feel aren’t timeless in any sense and are very 2007. I know you guys might disagree about Panic but it has that cheesy enjoyable quality to it that a lot of Backstreet Boys songs have that tends to make me smile. That’s why it gets a pass. That and Nick’s infamous Panic dance. As for One In A Million? I love that song. It’s upbeat in both music and it’s story, the message of the song is everything.

As with almost every album since Never Gone, the bonus tracks are songs that SHOULD have been on the album. Fight me on this if you disagree. You listen to Downpour and try to explain to me how that song shouldn’t have been on the album. I. Freaking. Dare. You. And don’t even get me going on in Pieces or Nowhere To Go. Come on! Thank God they seemed to have fixed that with…(actually, no, there’s two songs on In A World Like This I felt should’ve made the album too.) Never mind. Maybe they’ll fix that this time with the upcoming record.

I would never say Unbreakable is their strongest album. But I do feel this era needed to go down the way it did. While you may or may not have liked This Is Us you can’t say it wasn’t cohesive. This album helped them find their way. In some ways this album was more experimental than many others because they had to regroup after the exit of Kevin and keep going. Because their determination was everything. The album title is so fitting because they had to remind the world that they weren’t going anywhere. They might’ve been down but they weren’t out. I like to think of this time as their “underground” era because really, only the hard core fans kept up with them. It’s when they started connecting with their fans more than ever before since that was the beginning of their VIP sessions and their soundcheck packages, and their appreciation for those who stayed with them truly showed.

And as many of us believed back then, we knew that one day the world would come appreciate them once again.

I’m just thankful that day is now.

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