I Close the Door

It was Howie who had sent it to me.

It made sense when I thought about it. AJ had hardly spoken to me since I’d left the group. Brian was wrapped up in his own life with his family. Nick… well, Nick had been busy doing a reality show and then realizing afterwards that he needed to get his life back on track.

I was proud of him for that, and I smiled as I looked down at his face on the black and while album I was holding in my hands.

I was in the living room all alone. Kristin had left with Mason, saying she was going to give me some time to myself to listen to the CD I’d just received.

I just stared at it for a few minutes. It was odd to look at. It seemed like something was missing, and at the same time, it didn’t. I hadn’t been a part of the recording process, I didn’t look at the album cover and think about all the memories of being in the studio and the promotion to come. I just looked at it and wondered.

I wondered what that photoshoot had been like, and how long it had taken for them to get all those serious looking poses finished. My guess was that Howie and AJ were finished quicker than Nick and Brian.

I flipped the case over and glanced over the song names. It was strange to see them there, and not know a thing about them. I didn’t know which ones were written by Max, or which ones the guys had written together. I knew there were a couple they’d done all on their own. I didn’t even know what they sounded like.

I supposed there was only one way to find out.

Popping the CD into the stereo, I turned the volume up and sat down on the couch.

I was met by the sounds of their a cappella voices filling the room. The “intro” as it was called only lasted about a minute. I felt oddly nostalgic as I heard it. It reminded me of all those times in the beginning when we would sing for anyone and everyone. A cappella had always been our thing, it was what set us apart from other groups that came before and after us. Critics could say we didn’t write all of our own songs or play our own instruments, but at the end of the day they could never say that we couldn’t sing.

The next song was more uptempo, as were a couple others on the CD. It was a different feel than Never Gone had been, sort of like a callback to the early days. The sound had matured but it was still, at it’s heart, the pop music that we had been known for way back when.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I had felt we’d done a good job on Never Gone and while I knew a lot of fans weren’t happy with the direction we’d taken, I thought that we as a group had been satisfied with it. I knew that Jive wasn’t happy with it either, but Jive was never happy with us. It was a big reason why I’d decided to leave.

I wondered a little if I’d stayed with the group if this CD would have turned out this way, or if it would have had less synthesizers and auto tune. It was a far cry from that organic feel we’d tried to create with Never Gone, that was for sure. I tried to focus on listening to the music instead of comparing it with the album that came before it – but I had a hard time doing that. After all, it had been my last album with the group. It seemed like without me, they had reverted back to what we’d tried to break away from. Did they feel like I had been holding them back?

That couldn’t have been it, because as I recalled we were all in agreement over the direction of Never Gone. I wondered if they were all in agreement over the direction of this album. This album that seemed to have little direction other than “let’s try to recapture what was lost.”

Though, I have to say I found it ironic I was thinking that way. Looking inside the CD jacket, not one song was written by Max Martin. Maybe they weren’t moving so backwards as I thought they were.

Amidst all the uptempo tracks, there had been a few ballads, but nothing that stood out to me as special. I wanted so badly not to criticize the album. I wasn’t sure I wanted to like it, and part of me really didn’t want to like it. I had been the one to make the decision to leave the group, and I was okay with that. But listening to a Backstreet Boys album alone without my voice on it was so foreign to me, my first instinct was to find faults in it.

I was almost to the end of the album when the familiar sounds of piano keys began to play. That was when my opinion began to change.

Suddenly, it was like a blast from the past – but in a good way. In the same good way that the a cappella intro had been. Just a simple piano backing track and well crafted harmonies filled the room. This was what the group had been about, and this is what Never Gone and even Black and Blue had been lacking.

I looked over at the back of the CD. The last two songs of the album were the last two that spoke to me the most. The last song was a longer version of the intro I’d heard earlier. Flipping once again through the jacket, I was proud to see that it had been written by the four of them. That, and the song that had come before it were easily the best two songs on the disc.

I felt a little bad about how overly critical I’d been initially. Maybe the album itself seemed stale because the boys themselves lacked direction. I didn’t know what to blame for that and I certainly wasn’t about to ask them. I already knew that when Howie asked me what I thought about Unbreakable I would tell him the songs I liked best were Unmistakeable and Unsuspecting Sunday Afternoon and leave it at that.

Hopefully that in itself would get my message across. Not that my opinion mattered much in the grand scheme of things anymore. And unfortunately I don’t think mine, Howie’s, Nick’s, AJ’s or Brian’s ever really did.

Still, the last song left me with some hope. Hope that if the four of them kept writing and kept making music together eventually they would be able to do so without the interference of the record company, executives and anyone else who told them what their vision should be.

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