Timberlake gives listeners the sounds of the future

Andrew Gaug

Former Mouseketeer and boy band star breaks away from stereotypical pop sound with newest album


Credit: Jason Hall

In pop music, it’s the cohesion of the producer and the artist that make or break an album.

Michael Jackson had Quincy Jones, Kelis had the Neptunes, Janet Jackson had Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and now a new pinnacle in pop production happens between hip-hop producer Timbaland and former boy band singer Justin Timberlake on Futuresex/Lovesounds.

Though Timberlake’s musical credibility was questionable due to his former boy band status, it was The Neptunes and Timbaland’s left-of-center production that threw listeners a curve on his debut album Justified with its exploration of a wide variety of music genres.

With Futuresex, Timberlake works almost solely with Timbaland to surprising results.

Similar to the Timbaland-produced album Loose by Nelly Furtado released earlier this year, Timbaland either molds the singer’s signature voice with his often random and expansive beats or guts his style altogether for something new.

Such is the case in the lead-off single “SexyBack” – a song in which Timberlake’s voice is near unrecognizable under loads of distortion and singing is surprisingly kept to a minimum. It’s certainly a different style than one would expect from one of the most popular names in a genre that is known for playing it safe. It succeeds in breaking Timberlake away from most current pop songs, but becomes increasingly grating after it’s chorus (“Get ya sexy out/Go ‘head be gone with it”) is repeated for the 22nd time.

Luckily, “SexyBack” isn’t the best representation on the album. Timbaland updates one of his most famous beats – “Are You That Somebody?” by Aaliyah – for an amazingly restrained collaboration between Timberlake and rapper T.I. on “My Love,” and shows his charm over a bouncy bassline on the opening title track.

Playing to the album’s strength of unpredictability, two tracks that stand out not because of their beats but because of their depth are “Lovestoned” and “Losing My Way.” The former is a seven-minute song (you read that right) that begins like another disposable Michael Jackson-inspired pop song with Timberlake beatboxing over your dime-a-dozen hip-hop bassline and layers upon layers of strings. But the songs suddenly twists into a quiet refrain with minimized strings, a guitar and a bass beat.

Whereas, “Losing My Way” reinterprets rock band N.E.R.D.’s song “Bobby James” by telling the similar story of an everyday man named Bob who loses himself to cocaine. It’s far from the playfulness of “Rock Your Body.”

As with any pop album, Futuresex is not without its flaws. Timbaland’s love for eastern chord strutures and multi-layered strings in “What Goes Around” sound too similar to that of his previous hit “Cry Me A River,” but is saved by its second half of the song titled “Comes Around.”

The same cannot be said for the flaccid “Chop Me Up” and “Damn Girl” which either retread over a tired crunk beat or rehash Prince with corny lyrics like “If I’m a Casanova/then you’re a supernova.” Neither song is helped by phoned-in guest appearances by Three Six Mafia and Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am.

But in a pop world where every new artist either wants to sound like the big pop-punk band or another ’80s throwback, this sounds fresh. With it’s broken-up song structures and tracks that veer past the usual three minute marker, it has a lot of ambition but not enough material to pick up the slack.

Contact ALL editor Andrew Gaug at [email protected].

Justin Timberlake


Released on Jive Records

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