Things are sounding a bit creaky over here. It's my bones. They are a-squeaking because, help, police, Ghostbusters, I'm aging. Case in point, blog pal Melismatic remind me of the fact that *NSYNC's self-titled 1998 debut album is 15 years old this year. That's right. 15 YEARS OLD. I can't even process that.
See, I actually remember tuning into the Disney Channel the summer of 1998 and catching their live performance at Disney World. At the time, I was riveted. Then by the grace of the music gods, their first "big time" pay-per-view showcase (remember pay-per-view?!? Netflix was not even a thing) *NSYNC: *NConcert also came on and immediately became well-acquainted with my roving eyeballs. I remember taping both shows and spending my whole summer eating Frosted Cheerios and watching that tape till it almost fell to ribbons. I know my TV also got tired of those concerts, but I was in lurrrve with Top Ramen Noddle Head Justin Timberlake, so my TV and VHS tape were just going to have suck it up and deal with all the rewinding and replaying I was doing. I was an NSYNC-er, the transformation was complete.
I actually braved watching
Seeing the show with 2013 eyes, these observations were made apparent right on off:
- Glow-in-the-dark sumo wrestling outfits make for a very lame concert opening.
- There are a lot of, um, pelvic thrusts...
- I'm actually more turned on by JC Chasez circa 1999 now at 26 than I was back then. I was a fool.
- Never did I realize how much ear drum slicing screaming there was going on. We were screaming that loud? Yikes.
- Chris Kirkpatrick (aka the elderly one) and Joey Fatone actually got to have solo parts!
- It's not computing that that curly haired dork is the same Justin Timberlake who released 20/20 Experience this year. I refuse.
- Lance Bass actually looks SO uncomfortable throughout...foreshadowing!
- I have complete second-hand embarrassment by the chair dance during "For The Girl Who Has Everything"...the song is a ballad about a spoiled brat, not an excuse to give a poor fold-out chair lap dances. Inanimate object abuse!
- Way to overdose on the Sun-In, Old Navy vests, ugly flame printed BMX outfits, and tracksuits, guys.
- The biggie: *NSYNC sound more R&B than anything I've ever heard in the last...oh, eight years. Really. Plus they are in sync as they are on-point vocally. No jokes, these cats can sing.
There are actually two versions of *NSYNC's debut as back then when they wanted to promote a new boy band in the late 90's they went overseas to Europe. Why? Maybe because Euros appreciate Pop music better than us uppity Americans. I dunno, maybe it just looks more stylish. The 1997 European version of the fivesome's debut has all the essential singles like "I Want You Back" and "Tearin' Up My Heart", but included tracks like "Riddle" and their German single, "Together Again". Now the Americans got the gussied up version of their debut in a year later, complete with new cover art (thank god because look at the original at up top left. The finger pointing. The 'come get it' crotch pose. Ick.), and instead of the Euro-Pop of the 1997 release, the new self-titled set leaned into more smooth R&B sounds, tapping into the genre that was selling big in the States at the time.
Now *NSYNC is not the Sistine Chapel of pop albums, it's the Cheez-Wiz party platter you'd expect. Still this is a boy band album, it's not high-brow art, it's supposed to feature pump-up-the-volume dance jams ("Here We Go") and frothy ballads ("I Drive Myself Crazy"), and *NSYNC does not disappoint in delivering that, plus a few hidden gems here and there. The singles "I Want You Back", "Tearin' Up My Heart" and "God Must've Spent A Little More Time On You" also deliver big, and as you can plainly see the subject matters of sex and religion cross paths on this album --- and if that's not pop music for you, I don't know what is. So yes, this album hits on every thing you want and need in an album.
Thanks to Pop writing sultan, Max Martin "I Want You Back" and "Tearin' Up My Heart" were huge at middle school dances and huge on the charts, both cracking into the top 20. I'm actually more partial to "Tearin' Up My Heart" than the former, it has got to be one of the finest pieces of power pop to flow from a pen, plus the music video is amazing --- warehouse dancing, eating pizza, and JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE IN A WIFE BEATER TANK TOP ON AN OLD LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE BED...this was like pure erotica for 12-year-old me.
So what is all this R&B stuff I'm talking about, as all you've been hearing is surging and slushy Pop, right? Evidence of *NSYNC being packaged as a little more R&B than their counterparts (see Backstreet Boys) occurs on the Full Force produced, "I Just Wanna Be With You". It was their Ginuwine moment, and a good one at that. Also they go into All-4-One territory with "For The Girl Who Has Everything", a real silky ballad that JC and Justin sing the mess out of. The silly "Giddy Up" which was the only song fully written by the group, also engages in some funky bass lines and jazzy scats from the guys.
Personally, the best moment here is their cover of Christopher Cross' 1980 hit, "Sailing" (apologies to their cover of Bread's "Everything I Own"). It's some dreamy stuff. In fact, they gave me a whole new appreciation for this song as it used to conjure up raw memories of squeaky supermarket basket wheels and times where I had to listen to soft rock while getting my braces tightened. Really, they made me cuddle up to this song and give the most definitive version of it. Just listen to that harmonizing, it is just so swoonworthy. Plus they get bonus points for digging up Christopher Cross for one live performance, and for 'sailing' over the audience for another.
Surprisingly it's easy for me to sit back and listen to this album today. "I Just Wanna Be With You" sounds mighty fresh, "Tearin' Up My Heart" still gets warbled out whenever I hear it, and my soft-spot for Euro-House like on "I Need Love" gets repeated plays now and then. It's not a bad set for the jump start of a boy band that would go on to sell obscene amounts of albums and sell out tour stops, plus be the springboard for Justin Timberlake's solo career (which is pretty much its own success story). Also it should be noted that from here *NSYNC matured at a rapid pace, as their prospective follow-up albums, 2000's No Strings Attached and 2001's Celebrity showed vast growth stylistically, and in the time frame that they did it was quite impressive. Yet it all began here in 1998, fifteen years ago, and from the sound of the croons and my creaking, dancing bones, the boys from Orlando still have my rapt attention. So let's all scream and clutch our *NSYNC marionette dolls in honor.