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The Backstreet Boys' third album debuts on Tuesday

Will ”Black & Blue” help BSB reclaim Boyland’s crown?

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Get ready to cast your vote again. On Tues., Nov. 21, the Backstreet Boys unleash their third U.S. album, ”Black & Blue,” and the pollsters want to know: Will fans help them win the pop presidency? In May of ’99, BSB claimed a sales record with ”Millennium,” which scanned 1.13 million copies in its first week. But rival ‘N Sync’s ”No Strings Attached” beat the Boys last March, selling 2.4 million copies in week one, and raising the stakes in an increasingly sticky bubble gum battle.

”Even if they’re only a little bit over ‘N Sync’s [record],” says Tom Calderone, MTV’s senior VP of music and talent programming, ”the Backstreet Boys are put on a platform where people are expecting them to double [‘N Sync’s sales].” The Boys’ chart prowess may no longer be larger than life: Their first single, the six week old ”Shape of My Heart,” had yet to enter the top 10 at press time. Still, Frankie Blue, VP of operations and programming for New York’s WKTU, calls Backstreet ”the General Motors of boy bands,” and Dan Bowen, program director of Atlanta’s Star 94, says, ”They have a good shot at breaking [the record]. I’m sure the pressure’s on at the label.”

If it is, Jive Records isn’t saying; the label offered no comment about ”Black & Blue” except to say it shipped ”north of 5 million copies” — topping ”Strings”’ initial 4.2 million shipment. ”We don’t hype our albums,” states a label spokesperson. Riiiight. At least the Boys are doing their part, embarking on a 100 hour, six continent publicity tour that ends in New York City on the 21st. ”It’s going to be hit or miss with this record,” says Nelson Gomez, a CD buyer at a Manhattan Tower Records outlet. ”I have a little sister, and she’s not raving about the Backstreet Boys.”

Until the final returns are tallied, this race may just be too close to call. ”It’s up in the air,” says Gomez. Here’s hoping nobody asks for a recount.

(Additional reporting by Rob Brunner)