As a man, it’s really hard to say the words “I like the new Justin Timberlake album” aloud. I mean, look at the history. As a child, he started off his career as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club (next to Britney and Christina), and as a young adult, he made up 1/5 of unlistenable boy band, N*Sync. With a resume this, um, impressive, nobody around these parts ever took Justin seriously. But things began to change when he dropped his solo debut, Justified, in 2002, which was produced almost entirely by The Neptunes, with a little help from Timbaland. The sound had changed from the amateur pop-synth usually associated with acts like N*Sync and Backstreet into something actually worth listening to. Still, this was a guilty pleasure. Everyone in the industry secretly liked Justified, but nobody liked to talk about it.
With the release of Futuresex/Lovesounds, fans of Justin Timberlake are simply going to have to come out of the closet (some, in more ways than others), as his new shit just simply cannot be denied. Now fully backed by Timbaland, this album could have actually been billed as Justin/Timbaland, as the two artists have equal input on the creative process.
The album begins with the title track, a hollow, whispery anthem that sets up the entire project, finding Justin and Timbaland channeling the sound of Purple Rain era Prince. Monster hit single of the year “Sexyback” follows, which is single-handedly responsible for increasing the net-worth of both the two Tims. Justin’s obsession with all things sexy doesn’t stop there, as the West Coast funk grooves of “Sexy Ladies” keeps things moving in the right direction.
But its not until about midways through the album do we really start to get into the genius of Timbaland. With “Let Me Talk To You” and “My Love”, the producer begins a trend of ambitiously sewing songs together, transforming them from simply being very marketable pop songs to brilliant bodies of music. “Let Me Talk To You” works as the prelude to Justin’s second single, as its rambunctious Mardi Gras drum section sets up the forthcoming “My Love”, as the duo are seemingly having a great time trading verses. From here, “My Love” kicks in, a smooth, stuttering Timberland track that finds Justin pouring his heart out, while T.I. reiterates his verses in rhyme form. The moving “Lovestoned” b/w “I Think She Knows” is the second set of tracks to carry on the two-part song structure; the first finding Justin recapturing the “Sexyback” energy, while the second half breaks down and reconstructs the beat into a symphonic rock ballad ? and it works really well. Finally, “What Goes Around?” b/w “Comes Around” is the third two-part song. The first part of this is another smooth, slowed down single of typical variety, finding a scorned Justin recovering from a break-up. Again, Timbaland takes it to the next level during the second act, meshing chopped keyboards, southern guitar licks, a string section, and trademark bounce, as Justin finds bittersweet redemption. Just when you think this album couldn’t get any better, Will.I.Am comes out of nowhere with “Damn Girl”, which bangs with skull-snapping funk drums, psychedelic organs, and a sly nod to Diamond D’s “I’m Outta Here” (yeah, we didn’t see that coming either).
The album loses steam towards the end however. “Losing My Way” doesn’t fit in with the overall tone of the rest of this record, as Justin tries on some social-commentary for size, singing from the perspective of a junkie. Not to mention, this song also is very reminiscent of N.E.R.D.’s “Bobby James”, and it’s already obvious that this entire album is highly inspired by Pharrell and co’s In Search Of… LP. Meanwhile, the piano ballad, “(Another Song) All Over Again” has no business being on this record, sticking out like a sore thumb among the rest of the songs. Give us sexy, or give us death!
Timberlake owes the success of Futuresex/Lovesounds heavily to Timbaland. Not to say that Justin isn’t talented (or at least marketable) in his own right, but aka Thomas Crown has undoubtedly crafted some of the best production of his career on this record. While it would be nice to see Timbaland come back around into the hip-hop arena next year, if he keeps producing pop albums as good as this, you’ll find no arguments here if he doesn’t.
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