From left, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, AJ McLean, Howie Dorough
Their new single "Inconsolable" hits radio this month (hear it below), but it doesn't describe how the Backstreet Boys felt when Kevin Richardson told them during a conference call last year that he was sitting out their sixth album, due Oct. 30.
Despite feeling "kind of a shock," at first, says Nick Carter, "everyone understood. There were no hard feelings and that's just the way it needs to be. We've been through a lot in 14 years together, and there's no need to get angry or overly emotional."
In fact, the group – Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell and AJ McClean – still talk to Richardson, whose wife Kristin gave birth to son Mason in July.
"I just saw Kevin a couple days ago," says Dorough. "He's got a glow that is unbelievable, and I'm happy for him. And he's happy for us as well – he's not bitter. He's totally like, 'I want you guys to do your thing and not have weirdness.' "
The as-yet untitled new album features the usual Backstreet Boys fare that fans expect, says Carter: "Dance tracks, poppy rock songs, really beautiful ballads and R&B vocals. We're being what we are and have been for years. There are no catches. We just want to cater to the fans."
As the former boy-banders promote the new CD, Carter, 27, also will be showing off a new, trimmer physique. "I lost more than 40 pounds," says the singer, who worked out one hour a day, five days a week for six months to slim down from 223 pounds.
Carter says he put the weight on because he was depressed. "With my show The House of Carters, it was a shock to me to realize what my family had gone through. After so many years of dysfunction and my parents finally getting divorced and everybody being lost and me being the oldest, there was a lot of stress, a lot of pressure," he says.
"So I finally concentrated on my health, even went to some therapy. They say it starts on the inside. And it's nice when people look at you and think, 'Wow, he got his stuff together.' "
Between promotional trips for his family's Dorough Lupus Foundation (founded in honor of his late sister), Howie D, 33, has been in the studio working on his first solo album. "A kind of Latin/English thing," says Dorough, who just recorded nine demo songs with Jon Secada in Miami. "It's kind of Spanglish, kind of Latin with a little bit of a samba vibe."
But don't expect his first solo effort – or the second Christian album that Brian Littrell, 32, is working on – to derail the band that made them famous.
Promises Dorough: "Backstreet Boys comes first." Adds Carter: "This album is definitely going to be a little different when there's only four of us, but the door's always open for Kevin whenever he wants to come back."