There are two types of people in the world: those who prepare for the yuletide season early by fervently listening to Christmas music, and those who dread it. On Oct. 14, the Backstreet Boys confirmed that they fall into the former category, inaugurating the holiday 72 days in advance with the release of A Very Backstreet Christmas.
Originally slated to drop in 2021, the iconic five-piece band’s first Christmas album and tenth studio project was rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite its extra year in production, A Very Backstreet Christmas fails to encapsulate the festive fervor suggested by its eager new release date. Instead of radiating the warmth of the star atop a Christmas tree, the album feels more like a tarnished, long-forgotten ornament sitting in the corner of the attic.
In theory, the Backstreet Boys’ most recent work is a direct reflection of its title — it’s a holiday-inspired record awash in the boy band’s hybrid blend of dance pop, hip-hop and R&B balladry. However, the band leans into their ‘90s roots with little imagination or innovation, resulting in a project produced in a state of unsatisfying equilibrium.
Although an inexplicable yet undeniable sense of nostalgia often encompasses the holiday season, the same cannot be said for A Very Backstreet Christmas, whose sound is stale rather than sentimental. With its derivative instrumentation, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” would fit right into an ad for Macy’s or JCPenney. Meanwhile, the maudlin reflections on “Same Old Lang Syne” will be enjoyed by wine moms reminiscing by the fireplace and few others.
As the album progresses, it also becomes increasingly apparent that the Backstreet Boys’ crooning sensibilities don’t merge comfortably with even the most reverent Christmas songs. This issue is exemplified on the sixth track of the album, “O Holy Night.” “Fall on your knees/ and hear the angels’ voices,” the band sings in the chorus. In spite of their effortless harmony, the Backstreet Boys’ unduly saccharine vocals are more indicative of an address to a lover than an assembly of angelic messengers.
The band strives to sparkle with prismatic ingenuity on a triad of original tracks that close out the entire album. Unfortunately, with their hackneyed and, at times, uncomfortable lyricism, these songs rapidly fade into an uninspired, monochromatic landscape devoid of Christmas cheer.
For instance, rife with festive yet insipid imagery, the slapdash “Christmas in New York” contains all the songwriting finesse of an elementary schooler reciting a holiday-themed poem. Later, the penultimate track of the album, “Together,” sees the Backstreet Boys losing their once-trademark suave sensuality. “What we do alone/ Only Santa has to know,” they sing in a pre-chorus that is more awkward than smoothly suggestive.
At other times, the Backstreet Boys’ aspirations to formulate a beguiling Christmas record are dashed not by lackluster lyricism but by questionable production decisions. While “Last Christmas” initially promises to be a sufficient remake of an electro-pop classic, the song opens with sonically distorted backing vocals a degree too reminiscent of Alvin and the Chipmunks. “The Christmas Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” tracks that seek to embody the intimate and heartfelt essence of the season instead are dragged down by their sluggish instrumentals.
Though the album seldom gains momentum, its third track — an a capella rendition of “Winter Wonderland” — is a rare standout. Infused with pleasant yet not overly syrupy harmonizations, the jaunty track feels like a mug of steaming apple cider, both invigorating and comfortably familiar. Unfortunately, this is a delicate balance that the Backstreet Boys fail to strike throughout the majority of their full-length Christmas project.
Intended as a cozy ode to the holidays, A Very Backstreet Christmas instead produces a disappointingly safe, cloying assortment of tracks that linger like a toothache from one too many sugar cookies. But, at the end of the day, maybe the Backstreet Boys want it that way — even if no one else does.