Compared with the style-shifting Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake, Nick Carter is a classicist. None of their lofty ambitions for him -- on Now or Never, Carter brings new meaning to the phrase ''kicking it old-school'' by keeping the boy-band sound alive, albeit with heavier guitars and a wholesale embrace of hair-metal choruses. Carter just wants simple sugar-pop kicks, and he gets them in the creamy ''My Confession'' and ''Help Me.'' It's fluff and he knows it, and he scores points for lack of pretension.
Alas, he's docked for ''Girls in the USA,'' a grating Def Leppard-meets-dancehall mess in which Carter brags about how he has ''a little thing in the Denver hills/A real fine mama with a sex appeal.'' (And that's just one city.) And like Timberlake and Aguilera, Carter seems compelled to sit down next to a piano and ooze the most generic melody he's handed. Still, Carter's determined to have fun even as his world crumbles around him -- which, in some twisted way, proves that at least one teen-pop veteran remains in synch with our times.