|One month after its release, our critics duel over Justin Timberlake’s latest album. Dagny Salas writes that we can finally take Timberlake seriously as an artist, while Emily Vaughan argues that he’s uninspiring and repetitive.|
from Dagny Salas
Back when he was the front man of boy band sensation *NSYNC, Justin Timberlake had to play the role of the pretty boy who was just a little bit naughty. When his first solo effort, Justified, hit shelves in 2002, Timberlake was the vengeful ex, who, after a messy public breakup with fellow teen pop idol Britney Spears, just wanted to go out and party, scooping up two Grammys along the way.
With 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, the 25-year-old has put himself in a place where he can do whatever he wants: party, sex-you-up, fall in love, or sit at a piano and just sing. And that’s what Timberlake’s new album is like: a sexual dance party that never stops because there’s really no harm in having too much fun.
The infectious first single, “SexyBack,” features Timberlake and producer Timbaland (who appears on 10 of the 12 tracks) groaning and growling over beeps and bass, trading ridiculous lines like “Get your sexy on/Go ahead, be gone with it” and “Dirty babe/You see these shackles/Baby I’m your slave/I’ll let you whip me if I misbehave.” It’s not a song that should be good, but does that really matter when it’s GOOD in the way that songs are during the summer, when it’s sweltering hot and you’re at a party and it booms out of the speakers, thumping in your chest like an extra heart, and all you can do is dance? That kind of good makes songs like “SexyBack” completely irresistible.
The second single, “My Love,” is a more romantic song than the most of the tracks on the album. Professing his love to the woman of his dreams over a synthesized tune, JT still pulls off a sound that makes you want to sway and maybe dance a little more slowly with that special someone.
Most of the other songs on the album are just as sexified as “SexyBack.” The title track and “LoveStoned/I Think She Knows (Interlude)” are all about the dance floor prelude to the hookup, with lines like “I’ve got her in my zone/Her body’s pressed up on me/I think she’s ready to blow” in the former and “She’s got me love stoned/Man I swear she’s bad and she knows” in the latter. Their hot Timbaland-produced beats and Timberlake’s seductive voice has you thinking: “Where is the packed dance floor (and subsequent empty room) when I need it?”
And because it is a Justin Timberlake album, there is always speculation about a Britney-inspired song. “What Goes Around…Comes Around (Interlude)” certainly gets the rumor mill going with lyrics like “You had me in the palm of your hand/So why your love went away/I just can’t seem to understand,” but according to published reports, Timberlake denies that the song is a rehash of “Cry Me a River,” saying he drew from a friend’s experience instead. Nonetheless, Timberlake’s voice conveys a bitterness that feels real, and so you keep listening to the song on loop, trying to catch all the nuances of his betrayal.
Another standout track is “Summer Love/Set the Mood (Interlude)”, which oozes sun, sex, and a sultry affair. Backed by hand-clapping and a lazy summertime feel, Timberlake croons so invitingly about wanting to fall in love with his lusty seasonal lover that you want to lounge by the pool in a bikini, hoping the hot pool boy wanders by with extra towels.
The two tracks most different from the “we’re both hot, let’s have sex right now” formula that Timberlake makes work so well are “Losing My Way” and “(Another Song) All Over Again.” The former, which Timberlake says is was inspired by a documentary he watched, is about a young man who has lost his sense of direction because he has been consumed by the drug lifestyle. Timberlake’s serious take on the song lends it an earnestness that brings the desperate plea for help home, especially when a choir breaks out at the end, giving you chills.
The last track on the album, “(Another Song) All Over Again,” is supposed to be a stylistic tribute to Timberlake’s favorite singer, Donny Hathaway. A real ballad, the song allows Timberlake to finally unleash his beautiful falsetto as he appeals for another chance at love. The emotion delivery of the song stresses the point that Timberlake can also be taken seriously for all his promiscuity.
Timberlake’s second solo effort has its flaws, with its over-the-top lyrics and synthesized sound, but because JT isn’t ashamed to admit how hot he is for you and then still proves he can sing, the album is definitely worthy enough to pop in when you’re on the prowl for some future sex/love sounds.
from Emily Vaughan
Justin Timberlake is a marketing genius. He possesses the uncanny ability to convince everyone that if his name is on an album cover, it is good music. Good work, JT. You got America again.
But aside from his name, JT really didn’t contribute much to FutureSex/LoveSounds. There are a few bars of his trademark falsetto, made infamous in his 2002 debut solo album Justified, but his “singing” is really more digitized speaking in a variety of tones. At least as much credit belongs to Timbaland, the much-hyped producer. Not only is he featured on four tracks on the album, but he also co-wrote, co-produced, and played on 10 of the 12 tracks.
Even with the creative ingenuity of Timbaland, FutureSex/LoveSounds is uninspiring. The lyrics (“So slide a little bit closer to me/Daddy’s on a mission to please”) are inane. The subjects are so similar that it’s possible to lump them all together into the same song: “Justin Wants to Remind You That He’s Sexy, and Free Tonight.”
This isn’t to say that there’s something wrong with themed albums, or even a sex-themed album, which, albeit overdone, is always a big seller and generates popular radio hits. The first single “SexyBack” proves this formula still works.
The problem is with Timberlake’s version of a sex-themed album. One could argue that Justified was also a sex-themed album (which calls into question the idea that FutureSex/LoveSounds is a step forward in JT’s growth as an artist). With songs like “Senorita,” “Take Me Now (And She Said),” and the infamous “Rock Your Body” Timberlake has always used sex as his personal muse.
His latest project, however, misinterprets the word “theme.” A theme is an umbrella concept. That doesn’t mean in one song you can say “I’ve got her in my zone,” and two songs later announce “I got sexy ladies all over the floor,” and later quip that “I’mma freak you right each and every night.” Ok, ok JT, we get it. You’re getting laid.
He also claims to have gone around the world twice, once in “My Love” and again in “Damn Girl.” Apparently, JT is also running out of creative ways to say he would like you to go to bed with him.
The low point of the album would have to be “Chop Me Up.” Not only is the music nearly indistinguishable from the 11 other tracks where he tries to be a sleazy flirt, but it takes a pedophilic turn with the line “Simon says touch yours while you touch mine.” Too much information.
FutureSex/LoveSounds does have some catchy songs, which (for better or worse) will get stuck in your head. “My Love” and “What Goes Around…Comes Around (Interlude)” at least sound remotely different from the rest of the album, and “SexyBack” has already defiled radios across America.
Perhaps we were being spared in the late 90s when Timberlake was in *NSYNC and being criticized for not writing his own music. Obviously, he didn’t have enough material in his head to co-write one album. Just think of the suffering that would have ensued had he written five.
The saddest thing about FutureSex/LoveSounds is that it follows Justified. While not the most brilliant album ever recorded, it at least showed potential for Timberlake’s solo career. Easily the most popular prodigy of the boy band era, he was primed to lead the way to solo success.
Unfortunately, as a follow up to the twice Grammy award-winning debut, the best word for JT’s sophomore endeavor is disappointment.
Album Review of Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds