* 1/2 BACKSTREET BOYS
"Black & Blue"
If you ran out and bought this album when it came out Tuesday, you might want to skip to the TV listings or something. Because chances are you already love, love, love the Backstreet Boys' new collection. Which, by the way, has the same title as a 1976 Rolling Stones album, but whatever. Quite possibly, Brian, Nick, Kevin, Howie D. and A.J., like most of their fans, have never heard of it.
Back in those days, pinball machines were all the rage, so how appropriate that listening to these 13 songs is a bit like pinging around inside one of those old-fashioned amusement devices. Giant grinding beats slam you from pole to pole, there are lots of flashy effects, the environment is completely artificial, and once the ball is launched, you can see exactly where it's going.
Like their rivals 'N Sync and other fluff-poppers bidding for credibility, the Boys have more songwriting credits this time. Two numbers were even written solely by the quintet--the '80s-esque "The Answer to Our Life" and the mid-tempo ballad "Time," which reflects on the group's journey thus far and proves the lads as capable of cliche as any of their song doctors, with such lines as, "Time is what it is." Deep, dudes.
The messages remain relentlessly positive, stressing romantic faithfulness, self-respect, honesty and, oh yeah, the importance of supporting the Backstreet Boys (in the electro-funky "Everyone"). Their trademark ensemble crooning is tempered by spotlights on individual singers, which doesn't add any more personality to the mix. However, Howie D. is partially responsible for the only genuinely vulnerable moment, "How Did I Fall in Love With You," a ballad that struggles with the realization that a platonic friendship has taken a turn toward romance.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).