In retrospect I can’t imagine BBMak actually managing to stick around long beyond 2002. The Year The Teen Dream Died. The year JT broke free from the ‘syncs, the Backstreet Boys disappeared into the ether, the O-Towners tried to “grit” up their sound and John Mayer had his first big fat radio hits. Sweet boyish vocal pop was, with each passing second, becoming less of a “thing”; the likes of Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears managed to get by on brash modern sexualizations of their signature sound, but the tried-and-true vocal pop group was not to last.
Simply put, the world did not want for BBMak. They were just three sweet handsome British buddies who delivered America a hug and a kiss (respectively) with their two 2000 radio gems, the winsome “Back Here” and the definitive friendship ode “Still On Your Side.” Tracks characterized by handsomeboy charm, warm acoustic strums and perfectly blended vocal harmonies – three qualities that would not weather the Great Teenpop Purge of 2002. BBMak died for the same reason the Backstreet Boys (and, by extension, Nick Carter’s solo career) did: a refusal to modernize their sound. They were just too gosh-darned nice, for pete’s sake.
They tried, though. Ohh how they tried. Even if they knew their residency on Planet Teen was over and done with, the Sweet Daddy Maks refused to go gentle into that good night. And they did it the only way they knew how – ditch the acoustics, ramp the axes to 11 and BURN WITH ROCK GLORY*!!
*and by “BURN WITH ROCK GLORY!!” I mean “record a Don Henley-influenced follow up to their 2000 smash hit Sooner Or Later, augmenting their signature upper-register vocal harmonies with a slightly stronger emphasis on electric guitar and insistent percussion.”
2002’s Into Your Head is a summertime album for wistful teenagers. I can imagine almost every track on here fitting in just fine on The O.C. soundtrack (despite the show not airing until almost a year after this record’s release, but I digress). Whereas Sooner Or Later exemplifies clean-cut boy band sweetness, Into Your Head emphasizes jangle-poppy string-laden romantic drama. With the exception of the moderately rockin’ single “Staring Into Space,” what we have here is a collection of beach-ready summer tunes that beg to be on every teenager’s mixtape back in 2002.
I was 15 in 2002, so maybe my fascination with – and admiration for – Into Your Head is solely linked to the memories I assign to it. I never heard the full record until recently but “Out Of My Heart” was such a ubiquitous radio hit that summer that it has undeniably colored my views on the rest of the record. “Out Of My Heart” characterizes BBMak’s career twilight perfectly, with its fleeting melody and drifting guitar solo; it would not be a stretch for me to name it one of my all-time favorite summertime singles.
I guess I admire the whole of Into Your Head because, despite the obvious genericism of most of these tracks, there seems to have been a conscious effort on BBMak’s part to not deliver your usual piece of substandard singles-plus-filler teen pop product. Well-placed production tricks abound; “Get You Through The Night” bursts into vocal euphoria in its middle-eight, “Out Of Reach” swirls its chorus up and around all over the place in its final minute, and “Sympathy” busts out a string-section during its climax, for pete’s sake. These guys poured some love all over these songs, determined to deliver a solid 39-minute production-rich pop album for the kids to swoon over. And, for the most part, they succeeded.
BBMak made a killer mistake, though, one that has claimed many a pop act in their prime – they played the “legitimacy” card, a move that I am certain has not benefited a single teen pop group in the history of civilization. The Maks, you see, were one of those pop bands that actually played their own instruments and wrote their own songs (not unlike fellow teen pop casualties Hanson and SoulDecision). So, to them, the only way to break out of their obnoxious “boy band” categorization was to grow stubble, plug in their guitars and pay homage to as many FM rock influences as possible – to somehow refashion themselves as a “respectable” rock band. And so Into Your Head has, sadly, joined the ranks of other admirable-yet-commercially-flaccid records like Hanson’s “This Time Around” and SoulDecision’s “Shady Satin Drug” (the latter of which I have actually never heard, so don’t quote me on that – it could just be terrible).
Nice try, boys. I know you did everything you could. Just know that you’ll always have a fan in one young Sean David Rose. And that means a lot!!