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If only there had been more focus on quality and not just quantity, on changing the substance of the Boys' sound and not just making slight alterations in their style. The Boys' vocals remain both wispy and overdone--kind of like their facial hair--and none of the songs seem deeply felt. Backstreet's doing nothing that other contemporary vocal groups haven't done better: Jodeci had more personality, Blackstreet had better material, Boyz II Men are better singers. And, going back a bit, Backstreet has never recorded a song as soulful as the Doobie Brothers' What a Fool Believes or as instantly adorable as the Jackson 5's I Want You Back. Sure, Backstreet is fabulously popular. But so were Wilson Phillips, New Kids on the Block and the Spice Girls.
So what makes Backstreet think it can stay on top? The last song on Black & Blue is a ballad titled How Did I Fall in Love with You. The vocals are quiet and breathy, the harmonies on the chorus are sweet and fluttery, and it's all supported by sighing strings. The Boys sing lines like "I cannot hide I can't erase/ The way you make me feel inside/You complete me girl that's why." The gushing, unapologetic pathos of the song may stink like rotten milk to some listeners. But if you're willing to accept sentiment in place of emotion, corniness in place of craft and corporate marketing in place of your own free will, it can be intoxicating.