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B Backstreet Boys

DNA

RCA

Backstreet's back, all right. And sure, there are demographic and cultural reasons for it -- a way mothers can share their musical crushes with their BTS-loving daughters mixed with a desire to use sweet unabashed pop to escape the increasing stressfulness in uncertain times.

But the main reason the Backstreet Boys successfully engineered this comeback -- massive tour, Grammy nomination for the hit "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" -- is the music. DNA is the group's strongest album in years.

"Chances," co-written by Shawn Mendes and Ryan Tedder, sounds more like Mendes or Justin Bieber than the guys who delivered "I Want It That Way" 20 years ago, with the thunderous intensity of the production adding a sense of drama that wasn't in the classic Backstreet Boys sound.

The retro soul of "The Way It Was" shows how they have reworked their trademark harmonies to fit in the current pop landscape, combining old-school vocals and fluttering falsettos with booming production the way Rihanna and Bruno Mars have, to build a gorgeous standout moment. With the a cappella "Breathe," they take a page from the Pentatonix playbook. And on "Just Like You Like It," co-written by country star Dustin Lynch, they show they could give Little Big Town a run for their money in Nashville.

But it's the way the Backstreet Boys have matured that's the most impressive. "New Love," with its lower-register harmonies and distinctly adult lyrics, is the work of grown men. The horn-tastic "Passionate" may be the funkiest they have ever been.

Hot tracks: "New Love," "The Way It Was," "Breathe," "Passionate"

-- GLENN GAMBOA

Newsday (TNS)

A- Sharon Van Etten

Remind Me Tomorrow

Jagjaguwar

Sharon Van Etten's first four albums were brooding and often introspective. Her debut, 2009's Because I Was in Love, grew out of a toxic relationship and established her skill with nuanced and edgy songs smoothed over by her thoughtful vocals. In the five years since her last album, Van Etten began acting (in The OA and Twin Peaks), scored a film, returned to college, and became a parent. Remind Me Tomorrow is a new start, too: It's simultaneously her most optimistic album and her most disruptive. She has written many songs about love, but these are her closest to love songs. She has set aside her guitar and moved to keyboards. She's singing forcefully, even shouting at times.

Working with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent), she draws on Portishead ("Memorial Day"), P.J. Harvey ("Comeback Kid"), and Suicide ("Hands"). "Seventeen" is a catchy, triumphant rock song; "You Shadow" is a distorted, syncopated strut. It's a wonderfully assured, unsettling album, like her previous ones, but it's also surprisingly loud, dense and aggressive.

Hot tracks: "Memorial Day," "Seventeen," "Comeback Kid"

-- STEVE KLINGE

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

B Michael Franti & Spearhead

Stay Human Vol. II

Thirty Tigers

Michael Franti has plenty of love to share.

There are love songs for his wife, love songs for his fans and love songs for humanity -- all woven around Franti's signature reggae-infused pop beat.

"This is for everybody I love and you know who you are," Franti speaks at the beginning of "Extraordinary." "And if you don't know, I love you too."

Stay Human Vol. II is a record that overflows with positivity.

In these deeply divided times, Franti gives listeners about 45 minutes of nothing but good vibes, optimism and a charge to take that feeling out into the world.

Even when he's spreading the love, Franti never strays far from social activism -- a constant during his 30-year career.

"We could be the healing, we can be the flower in the gun," he implores on "The Flower," a duet with Victoria Canal. A powerful music video, featuring survivors and family members of victims of recent school shootings, drives his point home.

Hot tracks: "Extraordinary," "The Flower"

-- SCOTT BAUER

The Associated Press

SINGLES

Tamaryn, "Fits of Rage." A songwriter originally from New Zealand, Tamaryn has long placed her voice amid washes of reverb-laden guitar, mingling impulses from 1960s girl groups and 1990s shoegaze. "Fits of Rage" snaps her reveries into focus; the guitars still echo, but her voice leaps out from them, demanding accountability from someone who seems about to shrug her off. Her voice grows furious as she declares, "You can't deny I was so close to you." Sometimes anger is clarifying.

-- JON PARELES

The New York Times

Glen Hansard, "I'll Be You, Be Me." Oscar-winner Glen Hansard, the Irish songwriter from the Frames, the Swell Season and the musical Once, reduces his voice to a depressive, scratchy monotone in the ominous, low-self-esteem love song "I'll Be You, Be Me," from an album arriving in April. A ticking snare drum and a skulking bass accompany lines like "My lover is all good things/and I'm the fool whose spell she's under." By the end of the song he's engulfed in a tsunami of strings, choir and feedback, but still too glum to raise his voice.

-- JON PARELES

The New York Times

Backstreet Boys DNA+
Michael Franti & Spearhead Stay Human Vol. II

Style on 02/12/2019

Print Headline: Backstreet Boys prove maturity with DNA album

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