First things first, this is not the same Backstreet Boys sound you fell in love with as a teenager. It's been almost 5 years since the last album and the boys are now trying to move into a style more fitting with their growth as adult musicians. For most of Never Gone it works and on some tracks it works quite well. Whether their audience will follow remains an open question, but the group has made a pleasing transition with their trademark harmonies intact.
Relaxed and confident
While the last album Black and Blue noticeably suffered from the group's exhaustion with public scrutiny and private difficulties, on Never Gone the sound is much more relaxed and confident. Ballads like the first single "Incomplete" and "Lose It All" soar with vocal confidence. Even songs in which the Backstreet Boys stretch their skills, like the intricate vocal blending on "My Beautiful Woman" or the collaboration with Five For Fighting's John Ondrasik on "Weird World," sound almost effortless.
John Shanks Production On 'Never Gone'
Max Martin, architect of many of the Backstreet Boys' previous greatest moments, is present for work on 4 tracks on this album, but John Shanks, Grammy Award winning producer of Kelly Clarkson, Ashlee Simpson, and Alanis Morissette among others, takes over the bulk of the production work. He demonstrates a good feel for the group's new, more adult contemporary-oriented, sound. The one track that alludes to the group's previous big production teen pop sound is Max Martin's rocking "Just Want You To Know."
The Bottom Line
The album isn't perfect and a number of tracks that sound just slightly better than filler are present here, but the Backstreet Boys are astutely aware that the glory days of their style of teen pop are past. Never Gone is a significant stylistic shift in focus. It was needed and the group has accomplished the shift well. The remaining question is will the fans accept it.