It’s time to expand your mind. I know that’s not the leadoff sentence you’d expect from a review of Justin Timberlake’s new album, but that goes to prove my point. Leave your expectations at the door. What annoys me most in the world of music listeners is the phrase, “I listen to everything but (insert genre here, usually `popular country’ or `metal’).” Because of a few bad apples in a particular genre, usually the most visible ones, aspersions are cast on the entire bunch, which is downright unfair. It’s like judging all Americans on the actions of George W. Bush. I’ve come to the conclusion over the past few years that there is no such thing as a bad genre, there’s just music that’s good and music that’s not. For instance, using the above instance of metal, Mastodon is good, Disturbed is not. Every artist should be judged on a case-by-case basis, and honestly, that decision is entirely personal. Mastodon isn’t selling millions of records, but Disturbed is. So who’s right? My egotism and experience lead me to one choice, but there really is no right or wrong. Is this entire prelude an apology for digging Justin Timberlake? Maybe.
There I was, bowling with a group of friends from work, already weighed down and lightheaded from a few beers, when Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” began emanating throughout the alley. I couldn’t help myself, began to dance, and surprisingly, even to myself, knew most of the lyrics. I suppose, in a way, it was like sleeping with the town tramp. You’ll be teased about it in the morning by your friends, be embarrassed for a while, but ultimately know deep down that it was a hell of a good time. Since that time, liking JT’s music has been a dirty little secret of mine, but I’ve since gained some respect for the former N*Sync’er. It might not have been much of a risk to emulate the music of his favorite popstar, Michael Jackson, for his first album, Justified, but now at 25 years old, and still with a teenage fanbase, he could have easily continued down the path of `boy singer from a boy band.’ Justified declared Timberlake’s indepedence, not only from N*SYNC, but also from former flame, Britney Spears who, if you believe the video for “Cry Me A River,” (which I do) cheated on her former Mouseketeer buddy. Futuresex / Lovesound is just as funky as Justified, but is in fact even more ‘adult.’
Whereas Justified was about independence, Futuresex / Lovesound is about sexual freedom. Whereas Justified was influenced by Michael Jackson’s 1979 album, Off the Wall, Futuresex is informed by an album from 1980, Prince’s Dirty Mind. The cover image of JT crushing a disco ball with his heel seems fitting considering the one year upgrade. Timberlake’s first declaration off of the album was that he was bringing “Sexyback.” Everything about this statement echoes true throughout the rest of the songs. Okay, so according to the tabloids Timberlake just wants to `sow his wild oats’ on tour and break up with Cameron Diaz, but it seems to me that he’s trying to express sexy as more of a state of mind and artistic vision. It worked for the five-foot-two Prince, why can’t it work for the baby-faced Justin? The opening title track slinks along with restrained potential energy, which is never quite released until the next track. “Sexyback” is easily becoming the continuation of “Rock Your Body,” effectively electric and contagious, although this time masking Timberlake’s falsetto with vocal effects. The `take it to the bridge’ shout-outs remind me again of Prince and the asides in “Gett Off” and “Sexy M.F.” “My Love,” the latest single is equally infectious, preceded by the repetitive prelude insert, “Let Me Talk to You.” In “My Love,” the trademark falsetto is back, almost as worthy as that of `the Kid.’
“What Goes Around,” with its string accompaniments, is easily one of the most compelling of JT’s career, and showcases a different kind of maturity. Plus, could it be another sly message to the ex? Justin even manages to save a song, “Chop Me Up,” from the appearance of Three 6 Mafia. The Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am. returns the collaboration fever with an appearance on the jazzy “Damn Girl.” “Until the End of Time” is the closest I’ve heard to one of Prince’s ballads that I’ve heard in some time. “Losing My Way” is one of the few missteps with the privileged Timberlake telling a tale of the lure of crack. I could be wrong. It could turn into a song as popular as Elvis’ “In the Ghetto,” but it just rings hollow for me. Plus, it just gets in the way of the album’s overall theme. “All Over Again” recalls both Elton John and that one hit wonder, Billy Vera and the Beaters’ “At This Moment.” Amazingly, there are also moments when Timberlake really feels the passion of the song, and resembles Stevie Wonder from some of his early ’70s albums. The song is an amazing closer to a pretty damn fine album.
Scoff if you want, but Justin Timberlake has it going on. He knows the kind of music that he likes, and he performs it. He’s come a long way since the pre-packaged days of the boy band, and has matured into a true solo artist. Considering his rise to even more fame since his boy band days, the implosion of Britney and, at the time of writing this, his sixth straight week at the top of the singles chart, this album could as well have been called Vindicated. I am reminded of the career path of Robbie Williams, somewhat the best comparison for at least an acceptance arc. After Williams’ boy band, Take That, fell apart, Williams began a solo career that made fans out of normally particular listeners. Williams followed his own musical trajectory in the UK, just like Timberlake in the US. If the indie naysayers in the states could but open their minds to the music of JT, the rest would follow.