Remember the Backstreet Boys? The baggy trousers, the Kangol hats and those upbeat pop anthems that reverberated throughout the 1990s: I Want It That Way, As Long As You Love Me and Everybody (Backstreet's Back), among myriad other lyrical gems. Well, steady yourselves, people, because Backstreet's back, part two. The quintet is down to a quartet (Kevin Richardson, the oldest member, left on friendly terms in 2006), but the boys are surging through the European leg of their new tour like a musical Hadrian's army and before arriving for their first-ever Middle East gig in Dubai on December 17.
The tour is called This Is Us, appropriately named after their latest and seventh studio album, which was released last month. You will no doubt have heard the catchy first single, Straight Through My Heart, on radios across the land. "We made it a point to go back to our roots," explains AJ McLean (he's the one with the goatee). "We were kind of adamant about making a lot of up-tempo tracks so we could bring it to our live shows. We're dancing 85 per cent of it."
Last week, the boys played two of these high-energy gigs in London and appeared on The X-Factor after-show, The Xtra Factor, where the controversial contestants John and Edward Grimes, or "Jedward", said that the Backstreet Boys were their inspiration when they were growing up. "They may not be the best vocalists in the world," McLean says, "but they're having a lot of fun." McLean, 31, is familiar with matters of meteoric success. The Backstreet Boys formed 16 years ago and subsequently notched up sales of more than 100 million albums worldwide. They signed multimillion-dollar record deals, were besieged by hysterical teenage girls in cities across the world and littered their path with number-one hits. But at the same time, the boys grew up. Brian Littrell (the blonde who isn't Nick Carter) got married and had a baby, Howie Dorough followed suit, and Richardson left to pursue "the next chapter" of his life. The band's next two albums, Never Gone (2005) and Unbreakable (2007), didn't reach the dizzy levels of success that previous efforts did, and there were struggles with their record label, Jive. All that glittered was definitely not gold. "We actually never stopped, though," McLean says of the hiatus. "All that stuff about how we broke up, that was never the case." But 16 years on, is the name Backstreet Boys still appropriate? "It's funny," McLean says. "Look at other groups - The Beach Boys, the Pet Shop Boys, the Beastie Boys, they're all still boys. It's a brand. It will never change." So why the push now, with the worldwide tour and the new album? "We just love making music and it felt the right time to make a new record," McLean says. A good number of the fans, he adds, are grown up but still coming to gigs and bringing new faces with them. "Lots of them are married now and they're bringing their sons and daughters with them. It's starting a whole new fan base." The Backstreet Boys are in good company on this eternal boy-band merry-go-round. Take That's summer tour this year was the fastest-selling tour ever in the UK. Westlife are toiling over a new album and there are whispers that 'N Sync (Justin Timberlake's old band) might pull it back together. Does that worry the Backstreet Boys? "We're all friends," McLean says wearily. "Obviously the press always want to make out a fight, but it's not even close to that. We've all been friends for years." The recent death of Boyzone's Stephen Gately was "definitely a shock", he adds. "Hearing things like this about peers of mine, it really changes things. I don't want to wind up dead in my hotel room." Having previously spent time in rehab for drugs and alcohol, McLean is back on good behaviour, but calls it "a daily struggle". There's plenty for him to focus on, though. In addition to the current tour, McLean is working on his solo career and releasing a debut album next year. He has a girlfriend, though admits to harbouring a "huge" crush on Lady Gaga. "I'm dying to meet her and do a song together," he laughs. And 20 to 30 years from now, will the boys still be churning out music? "Absolutely," he says. "We might not be dancing as much. We might need our walkers on stage, but we're doing this as long as our fans want us to and as long as we're having fun. That's the biggest thing."
• The Backstreet Boys perform December 17 at The Palladium, Dubai Media City. Tickets available from www.boxofficeme.com.