TAKEN ON ITS own merits, as opposed to some vague hip-o-meter calibration, the boy-band sensation's latest is more than just a modest little pleasure. Sure, it's frontloaded with fluff; opening cut "Larger Than Life" brings back shuddery nightmares of Eddie Van Halen playing fry-the-bacon with Michael Jackson, and "I Need You Tonight" is the kind of sappy, overwrought piano ballad that only an unreconstructed Stevie Wonder fan could love. But then, if you deducted fluff points from every artist I doubt the Beatles' first three albums would rate as highly as they do. And amid this dozen tunes is one absolutely perfect gem. "I Want It That Way" is a timeless, elegant song that deserves an airing outside the realm of pre-conceived opinion. It's constructed on simple (not overproduced) five-part harmonies a la The Eagles, a catchy/chunky acoustic guitar riff nicked, likewise, from Frey, Henley & Co., and a sneaky, take-your-breath-away chorus-bridge-chorus segue. Even better, the lyrics speak plainly to matters of the heart, rhyming "fire" and "desire" for perhaps the first time in ages without making the listener cringe: "We are two worlds apart/ I want you to know that/ Deep down inside of me/ You are my fire/ The one desire."
Besides, for a group like this, the message is the medium. The overt negativity that infests today's rap and metal groups, not to mention all the underachieving of simpy alterna-rock bands, doesn't offer much for teenage girls, young gay males and just plain mainstream music lovers who actually savor finding the little moments that make you glad to be alive, as opposed to complaining about the crummy cards you've been dealt. I'm not suggesting the Backstreet Boys are saviors or anything. (They look too dorky for that.) But they are an alternative.