Review Summary: 98 Degrees is nothing special when compared to the wide variety of genres and bands out there, however, when compared to their competition, it becomes clear that "and Rising" puts them on the better end of the not-so-impressive boyband spectrum.
Let me just first start out by making one thing perfectly clear: I am not a fan of the boyband or pop variety, I find their tunes to be repetitive, annoying, overproduced and far from inspirational.
Keeping this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by the second 98 Degrees ablum "and Rising", which my 12 year old cousin provided me with while on a two hour drive just east of the city. 98 Degrees have somewhat deviated from the standard boyband fashion, at least, in "and Rising"; I have heard their older and new releases, which needless to say are nothing original. However, upon being cornered by a cute, 12-year old girl who wants nothing more than to listen to her dream-boy Nick Lachey, I threw her a bone and prepared to "suck up" whatever boybandish torture was sure to be headed my way.
What I didn't know is that much of this album is fresh, in relation to N'sync and the Backstreet Boys, anyway.
The album does not feel over the top - at least, beyond one or two songs, and does not feel soul-less or uninspired. The songs are, yes, mostly about break-ups, ex-girlfriends and past loves, but lyrics are not much of the reason I praise this album. The entire essence of the album is variation. Two distinct varieties of music emerge: a.) The jazzy, rhythmic songs such as "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Heat it Up" come to mind, and b.) the calm, mellow songs like "If She Only Knew", "Still", and, my personal favorite "She's Out of My Life" - which consists of the band performing without the benefit of insturments.
These songs offer the variety that makes this band a notch above the competition. There are a few overproduced, plainly annoying songs like "To Me You're Everything", which while catchy, is the epitome of everything I despise in the boyband realm, and "True To Your Heart", which really loses its place in this album - it just doesn't seem to fit.
However, there are plenty of unsung heroes for this album. "Still" and "Fly With Me" are wonderful songs that are surprisingly deep - and I don't mean inspirationally "deep", I mean they offer and contribute plenty of depth to the album in its entirety. Their rhythm, beat and tempo operate cohesively; binding the album together. More mainstream songs like "Because of You" and "I Do (Cherish You)" only lose a bit of their allure because of the fact they got, and still are, getting played way too much. However, this is a fault of a lot of popular music, so no knock on 98 Degrees here.
The voices are pure, enticing and generally pleasing - Lachey leads his posse of melody-loving counterparts all throughout "and Rising" with incredible success. I am not a huge fan of Lachey - at least, not his personal life and the drama surrounding it; I find it rather obtuse - but the music, and his voice, seem to fit well enough to work. His backup, albeit rarely, get their own parts in songs - which is a nice change when your ears are rewarded with it. Occasionally, you will get a rather annoying "hoo" or "uhn", but this can be easily disregarded as something aesthetic and in-the-moment, opposed to being overproduced.
In conclusion, "and Rising" is a solid effort by a not-so-great band. However, 98 Degrees does do one thing very well: they deviate from the mainstream enough to appear seperate from the classic boyband cliches. I wouldn't recommend buying it, so for those wondering why this album is rated 3.5, you can sleep soundly knowing this rating is only in relation to the competitive boyband market.