Review Summary: A solid, if often bland, pop-rock album, and proof positive that you should never judge a book by its cover.
In the music world, wanting to branch out and try new things is nothing new. We’ve seen it happen countless times, with musicians from established bands departing to pursue their own musical vision and attempt to achieve some degree of relevancy outside their mother group. Examples of this range from Justin Timberlake to Beyoncé Knowles, and from Ozzy Osbourne to Ronan Keating, Rob Halford (with Fight, then Two), Trent Reznor, Dee Dee Ramone, Ricky Martin and today’s subject, Nick Carter.
Carter’s main claim to fame, as everyone knows, was being the babyface heartthrob in mid-90’s boyband the Backstreet Boys. Joining at the tender age of sixteen, Carter became the band’s main link with its intended audience, as well as the target for most of said audience’s passionate shrieks. When the Backstreet Boys eventually decided to take a break, he was also the first to branch out in search of musical cred. And while his attempt can hardly be called a resounding success (even if it reached gold at the time, it is hardly remembered today), a few listens show that it didn’t deserve to flop as spectacularly as it did, either.
Now, where competition was concerned, Carter hardly stood a chance. The same year Now Or Never
was released, Justin Timberlake was showing that he actually knew how to write songs and Christina Aguilera was showing us her Dirrty
side. In amidst the pop explosion of these two albums, Nick’s unassuming attempt into the realm of radio pop-rock went by pretty much unnoticed, throwing the former Backstreet Boy into the group populated by people such as JC Chasez and Nick Lachey. However, Carter can rightfully complain about bad timing, since his flop was more about strong competition than any fault of his own.
In fact, Now Or Never
is an eminently listenable pop album, which does away with every (low) expectation of anyone who knows of its author’s past. Shedding most of the Backstreet sound in favor of a bland, yet honest radio pop-rock, and mixing it with some pleasant experiments, Carter and his army of producers and songwriters have concocted an album which will leave no pop fan unfulfilled.
Of course, the main point of interest here is Nick’s voice itself. While in the Backstreet Boys, the blond teen idol was never known for his singing prowess, so Now Or Never
was bound to be his trial by fire. And while he shows no tremendous amount of talent, he is not as limited as everyone might have thought, either. His range is not the best, and a hint of Autotune may be detectable, but he is capable of assuming different vocal registers to fit each song. His natural pitch lies somewhere between a grown-up member of Hanson and a teenaged, less talented Bryan Adams; however, in the course of these twelve songs, he also shows himself capable of a Bon Jovi rasp (Do I Have To Cry For You
, Heart Without A Home (I’ll Be Yours)
) and a pastiche of adolescent pop-punk (I Just Wanna Take You Home
). The music itself follows along the same lines, being at once varied and appealing. The first few songs unravel in an extremely bland brand of pop-rock, with opener Help Me
sounding like a virtual re-write of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s How Do I Deal
, which itself was a rewrite of Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn
. The following couple of songs follow the same mold, sounding like a million other faceless bands one might hear on the radio every day.
However, once the third song has passed, the album suddenly becomes something entirely different – and better. It’s like Carter and his team knew that, at this point, the fangirls would already have bought or abandoned the album, and thus the path is cleared for a little diversity, allowing for a Bryan Adams/Bon Jovi ballad (Do I Have To Cry For You
), an Androids pastiche (I Just Wanna Take You Home
), the teenage-Backstreet sound of Is It Saturday Yet
and a bona-fide Def Leppard stomp (Girls In The USA
). And while the album all too soon reverts to faceless radio-rock, these few tracks alone are worth the price of admission.
All in all, then, this album is worth a listen to anyone who enjoys their pop-rock. While musically it never shines, it is competent enough, and even lyrically there is nothing too shocking, apart from the exceedingly juvenile imagery of Is It Saturday Yet?
and the frequent attempts at appearing “macho” and badass, like the party-sex bravado of bonus track Scandalicious
. To be sure, like any self-respecting pop album, it is not without its share of poor moments, and here the exceedingly syrupy Miss America
and the ill-fitting, out-of-left-field reggae vocals on Girls In The USA
come to mind; but the handful of standouts and the generally unoffending filler more than make up for it. For someone of the male persuasion, it will never be more than a (very) guilty pleasure; but if you let go of your preconceptions, forget who’s on the cover and just enjoy the songs, you are guaranteed to have a good time.
Do I Have To Cry For You
Girls In The USA
I Just Wanna Take You Home
Heart Without A Home (I’ll Be Yours)