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Mon Jun 13, 6:56 AM ET With first single Incomplete at No. 10 at top 40 radio, the Backstreet Boys have taken a successful first step toward proving that a boy band can have a second life.

After playing promotional shows for Never Gone, their first studio CD since 2000's Black & Blue (due Tuesday), the quintet embarks on a tour July 22.

An absence of several years is an eternity in teen-pop time. They didn't want it that way.

On Thanksgiving night in 2001, the Backstreet Boys gathered in a steakhouse in Osaka, Japan, and assessed their future. "We had just done a show in front of about 60,000 people," Brian Littrell says. "We talked about taking the holidays off, then figured we would really need six months to a year.

"During the Black & Blue tour, we were mixed up with a lot of negativity," Littrell concedes. "9/11 happened, and we lost a crewmember. AJ was becoming unreliable because of the things he was dabbling in." Littrell is referring to the substance abuse that landed bandmate AJ McLean in rehab toward the end of the tour.

"Our success had gotten so big that our sense of the business and real life had become really jaded," Littrell continues. "We needed some time to miss what we had worked so hard for, and to recharge our batteries as individuals."

For Littrell, 30, a self-described "homebody," that meant becoming a father; he and his wife, Leighanne, have a 2½-year-old son, Baylee. Kevin Richardson, 33, starred in Chicago on Broadway and London's West End, contributed to the soundtrack of David LaChapelle's new film, Rize, and continued working to fight colon cancer, which killed his father (who inspired the title track of Never Gone) in 1991.

Howie Dorough, 31, who lost his sister Caroline to lupus in 1998, maintained his own charity, the Dorough Lupus Foundation. McLean, 27, remained sober, and Nick Carter, 25, released a solo album in 2002 and subsequently dated Paris Hilton.

Of the hotel-heiress-turned-reality-show-queen, Carter says simply, "She was one of my girlfriends. But it was just something I went through that didn't turn out to be the right thing."

However personally fulfilling the group's break may have been, the members have been out of the spotlight for the most part. Many teen acts have failed to rekindle fans' ardor upon reuniting. But Backstreet is optimistic.

"After our break, we're all focusing on the positive," Littrell says. "We're back to square one, and it's a joy to be here."

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