Backstreet Boys

In a World Like This

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Usually, teen idols sprint away from the notion they're racking up the years, but the Backstreet Boys cannily decided to treat their 20th Anniversary as a very big deal, bringing Kevin Richardson back into the fold -- he left after 2005's Never -- for a tour, a documentary, and In a World Like This, the band's seventh album. Over the course of the back half of the 2000s, Backstreet Boys slowly accepted their advancing age, making a slow shift from dance-pop toward adult contemporary, and although it has a sharper gleam in its sheen, In a World Like This doesn't find BSB reversing this trend. Working primarily with longtime colleague Max Martin, Morgan Taylor Reid, and Martin Terefe, who has produced Jason Mraz, Ron Sexsmith, James Morrison, and KT Tunstall among other singer/songwriters, Backstreet Boys take sideways glances toward their past but focus on the present, happy to keep things smooth even when the rhythms get a little heated. Most of the heavier dance beats come courtesy of Reid -- the single "Permanent Stain," "One Phone Call," the shoutalong closer "Soldier" -- but even then it rarely feels as if the Backstreet Boys are desperate for a club hit; as much as anything, these harder beats are there for some variety in texture. Max Martin does an admirable job in deglossing his hooks on the title track, but where BSB really shine are on the Terefe tracks, which sometimes hint at the breezy acoustic melodicism of Mraz, but better still evoke the classic stripped-down soul of prime Babyface, especially on "Try" and "Trust Me." Perhaps there are moments where texture trumps composition, but overall In a World Like This is a surprisingly mature and fine record from a former boy band that seems unafraid to act its age.

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