By Sean Calhoun
Last time, I covered one of the biggest boy bands of all time when I reviewed the Backstreet Boys’ Millennium. In this edition of The (Music) Yearbook, I’ll start with the best-selling album from their most well-known contemporaries…
No Strings Attached – *NSYNC (Jive Records)
If the Backstreet Boys showed the success a boy band could have with five members who held generally equal weight, their labelmates (and rivals) *NSYNC demonstrated that the opposite formula could work as well – that is, a quintet anchored by a single, most popular (and powerful) member.
It’s impossible to talk about *NSYNC without talking about Justin Timberlake. Not only was he the band’s undisputed leader at the height of their popularity (no disrespect to JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Lance Bass or Chris Kirkpatrick), he’s also the only member most people can name and the only one to really find much of any post-*NSYNC success.
No Strings Attached was, indisputably, the group’s most popular and successful album. It sold over a million copies on the day of its release and 2.42 million copies in its first week, both records that stood for over a decade and a half.
The first two songs on the record are “Bye Bye Bye” and “It’s Gonna Be Me,” easily the album’s two biggest tracks and perhaps the two most memorable tracks in the entire *NSYNC discography (although one could also make a case for “Tearin’ up My Heart” off of their eponymous debut). These are also easily the two best songs on the album, and I could practically see the synchronized choreography in my mind as I listened to the heavily electronic backing tracks.
The lyrical topics covered on No Strings Attached are nothing new for those familiar with the genre – lots of songs about saying no to girls and wondering why girls won’t say yes, with an occasional heartfelt ballad thrown in for good measure. The biggest exception on this record is its third track, “Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay),” a distressingly strange track about end-times prophecy and escaping Earth (“up in outer space/there’s no gravity to fall”). It’s certainly different, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. (The track is saved to some extent by a guest rap verse from the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, though even that feels a bit out of place.)
This is a goofy album with a lot of tracks that I have no memory of, despite listening to it many, many times as a young child. That afforded me some pleasant surprises while preparing for this review, but it also underscored the fact that a solid percentage of *NSYNC’s discography is actually pretty forgettable. For what it’s worth, I will always believe that the Backstreet Boys were the clear winners of the Early 2000s Boy Band Sweepstakes.
Score, Adjusted For 2016 Ratings Inflation: 6.4/10
For the second album from 2000, I went a completely different direction, choosing a memorable, confusing, and highly experimental record from one of the most enigmatic bands of the last twenty-five years…
Kid A – Radiohead (Parlophone – Capitol)
This album has been considered an indie classic since almost immediately after it was released, and there is hot debate as to whether this record or its predecessor (OK Computer) is the British act’s finest work.
It’s certain, however, that Kid A is the more experimental and unusual of the two albums by far. The album contains no singles, strange and highly unique instrumentation, and lyrics that often make very little sense. Far from being the main event, frontman Thom Yorke’s vocals on this album are meant to be another part of the whole, often mixed lower than in most bands’ work.
The album starts with “Everything In Its Right Place,” a track anchored by a constant piano line and Yorke’s repetition of the song’s title in lieu of any real chorus. It does much to set the tone for Kid A as a whole as a record that never moves in an expected or predictable direction.
Kid A is an album that simultaneously seems to have everything and nothing going on at once. The lack of traditional vocal lines and melodies has the effect of making a lot of these tracks feel empty and unsettling, forcing the listener on edge, and it quickly becomes clear why the record has no singles. Removing any one of these 11 tracks from their original context cheapens the intent; Kid A is an album that demands to be listened to in one sitting.
If anything on Kid A could conceivably come close to being called a single, it would be “Idioteque” (after all, it was performed on Saturday Night Live). It’s a nervy track, with Yorke’s vocals (more prominent here than on much of the album) becoming increasingly more paranoid over its five-minutes-plus runtime. It’s perhaps the most “accessible” track on the album and also one of the best. (“How To Disappear Completely” is another standout and one of the album’s few tracks to actually feature traditional acoustic guitar.)
There isn’t much to say about Kid A that hasn’t already been said. Yes, it is a “difficult” album, insofar as listening to music can be a difficult task. It was one of the first albums to be promoted primarily via the Internet, paving the way for the so-called “streaming revolution” of the 2000s and 2010s. Most importantly, though, it’s an album that still sounds like the music of the future, even to this day.
Score, Adjusted For 2016 Ratings Inflation: 10/10