Lisa Miskovsky is a Swedish singer-songwriter of little fame and less import. But if a single line can earn a seat of honor in wimp-pop Valhalla, may she one day sup in triumph with Gene Pitney. “Sadness is beautiful; loneliness is tragical”–you could stare at your Grecian urn all damn day and not summon such wisdom. Not that Miskovsky herself knew what to make of that lyric, as her own lopsided “Another Shape of My Heart” demonstrates. But maybe that’s why God spent a little more time polishing the unflagging sincerity of the Backstreet Boys.
Yeah, sincerity–it’s romantic pop’s great selling point, yet I couldn’t list a half-dozen famous people credibly faking it today. The trick is to sound like you mean it, rather than show you mean it, yet as fewer stars have proven themselves capable of projecting recognizable human emotion, more have settled for a super-sized outpouring of feeling. In this, as in all else, I blame American Idol, buncha crass Britons with no respect for the niceties of American popular culture calcifying a bastardized trend.
So maybe the Backstreet Boys were lucky that not a one of ’em was a bona fide vocal virtuoso. They never mistook the immensity of an emotion for its depth, and tellingly “Larger Than Life” was about their fans as much as themselves. All these years later, I still can’t remember which is which without checking their photo clips–and unless you were among those thousands of girls affixing a “Mrs.” before the name of her imagined beau, distinguishing between them was hardly essential to the illusion. In fact, it might even distract you from the overall effect.
The chords of “Shape of My Heart” unfold with a professional inevitability, the gently phased guitar snaps dutifully into the chorus, and the Boys’ voices whoosh apologetically all over the room. Their last great ballad wasn’t their greatest, but it was maybe their least flawed, unmarred by any production choice as pro forma as the cheeseball Spanish guitar of “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely.” Even the glorious “I Want It That Way” felt compelled to rhyme “fire” with “desire.”
But legal wrangling, A.J.’s addictions, and Nick’s solo delusions would sidetrack them. When they re-emerged in 2005, the Boys no longer had their heart in it. Despite the absurdist brilliance of the line “Empty spaces fill me up with holes,” the fallow hit “Incomplete” made it all too clear: They were tryin’ to be someone, to play a part.