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by by Yong-Mi Kim

Let me first get this out of the way: I like boy bands. I also like Steve Reich, but that's a different review. Actually, if I'm getting things off my chest, I should also reveal I have the Spice Girls' first album, and I like it.

Enough rambling. What I have in front of me, for my listening pleasure, are Take That's Nobody Else (1995), Boyzone's request (1999), and Backstreet Boys' Millenium (1999). Take That were HUGE in the UK and the rest of Europe. Their breakup caused hotlines for distressed fans to be established in a number of European countries. They had some success in the U.S. with the single "Back for Good," but never quite managed the hysterical following that Backstreet Boys or *nsync have sussed up in the U.S. Oh, why am I not including *nsync in this boy band review? I'll get to that later. I promise. Anyway, Take That's breakup spawned off Gary Barlow's and Robbie Williams' relatively successful solo careers.

Boyzone are Irish, hugely successful in Europe, and again relatively unknown in the U.S. They've contributed the theme song to the Mr. Bean movie ("Picture of You"), had a cameo appearance in fellow Irish band U2's "The Sweetest Thing" video, and lead singer Ronan Keating had a song in the Notting Hill soundtrack ("When You Say Nothing At All"). Yet they're still unknown in the U.S. Life is *so* unfair.

Backstreet Boys? Just watch MTV. Enuff said.

Oh, why didn't I include *nsync or 98 degrees or others? Because they didn't have songs that got me all swoony like the three boy bands being discussed. Songs that made me go, "Oh, that's just the PERFECT pop song!" (Jon Secada's "Just Another Day" was one of those songs) and faint right away.

Take That had the aforementioned "Back for Good." The song also had the silliest video I'd ever seen (I think their best music video is for "How Deep Is Your Love," a Bee Gees cover), but the song itself made me want to have Gary Barlow's babies right then and there.

I had that moment of truth when I saw Boyzone's "Isn't It A Wonder" on MTV Europe in an apartment in Malmo, Sweden. A shirtless Ronan Keating in the video didn't hurt, either. Ronan Keating's cover of "When You Say Nothing At All" also gets me all tingly, too. Both are in request, which is a Boyzone greatest hits compilation.

Backstreet Boys wasn't doing much for me until I heard "I Want It That Way." I have no idea what the lyrics mean. It doesn't matter. It's a perfect pop song. They're also different from the other boy bands in this review (other than success in both the U.S. and the rest of the world) in that there's no one band member who's the voice for the band. More democratic, if you will.

Boyzone has an interesting taste in cover songs: Tracy Chapman's "Baby Can I Hold You", Billy Ocean's "When the Going Gets Tough," and the Bee Gees' "Words," among others. I hated all three of them. (What is it with boy bands and Bee Gees songs, anyway?) I would say the most successful choice is "When You Say Nothing At All," which also happens to be a solo effort from Ronan Keating. Alison Krauss had previously covered this song, by the way. This track shows Ronan has both good taste in music and the vocals to do it justice. All I can say is I highly look forward to a solo career from his part. Overlooking some of the weaker tracks, songs such as "Isn't It A Wonder," "A Different Beat," "All That I Need," or "Love Me For A Reason" should be enough to introduce one to the charms of Boyzone. Appreciate the vocals, but don't expect to dance to this album. I am not too impressed with the quality of the arrangements, either, most of them exhibitng a certain je ne sais quoi cheesiness. Overall, request is a competenet introduction to the Boyzone oeuvre.

Ah, Take That, boy band par excellence, sui generis. Nobody Else, the band's third album, is smooth pop all the way, tastefully done, avoiding the cheesiness of some of Boyzone's songs. There are some obviously 80's synth flourishes in the arrangement of tracks such as the opening "Sure," but Gary Barlow et al's vocals conquer all. No, wait, even Gary can't rescue "Every Guy." Besides the aforementioned "Back for Good," "Nobody Else" is another nice swoony track. Robbie Williams had left the band by the time this album was released in the U.S., so although he is credited for vocals he is not listed as a band member nor he is featured in the band's studio shots. Did I mention the boys wrote their own songs (the majority penned by Messr. Barlow) and produced some of their own tracks? Oh, and you can't really dance to this album.

Which brings us to Backstreet Boys. Let's dance, kids! I have to admit I can't name a single Backstreet Boy, let alone tell them apart in their videos. Oh sure, there's the cute one, there's the sensitive one, there's the bad boy, etc., but that's about the extent of my recognition. Of the boy bands discussed here, Backstreet Boys is the only one not suffering from One Guy Who Can Sing and Four (Three for Take That) Other Guys Who Look Cute in the Music Videos Syndrome. Except for "I Want It That Way" I can't really recall any distinguishing characteristics of the songs in the rest of the album. Conclusion: get the single.

And now for pointless trivia. Wow. The sleeve credits for the Backstreet Boys list wardrobe - provided by Prada, Gucci, Armani, John Bartlett, Cynthia Rowley, Tommy Hilfiger, and Barney's New York. Take That only listed Vidal Sassoon for hair. Boyzone thanks Pepsi and Father Ted. Boyzone wins the sleeve credits award! Are these guys cool or what? (Who's Father Ted? You need to watch more telly!) Boyzone has the best logo, too! Check out!

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