Justified, Justin Timberlake
A couple of months ago, I called Justin Timberlake a ho. In fact, I honoured him with his very own Male Ho of the Month Award. Since then, my opinion of him has been pretty ambivalent. But just because he's a ho, it doesn't mean he isn't talented.
I had originally intended to review Timberlake's CD alongside Nick Carter's effort. The similarities are blatant: they're both one-fifth of wildly popular boy-bands, both enjoy playing basketball, and both are blonde. They're both also embarking on solo projects that could make or break their careers. But, alas, I could not bring myself to download anything by Nick Carter, let alone listen to it. With Timberlake's first single off the CD, "Like I Love You," I knew that it would be more worthwhile to listen to someone who could recognize that working with the Neptunes was a wise career move.
Justified's thirteen songs were all co-written by the twenty-one year old front man of *NSYNC, and a vast majority were produced by The Neptunes and Timbaland. The result: a funkdified R&B-pop hybrid channeling the likes of Michael Jackson (pre-wacko stage) and Stevie Wonder. Timberlake, who claims he was influenced by rap and '70s R&B, shows that he's matured greatly in the last four years, when *NSYNC first broke out in the States. This maturity probably stems from his three year relationship with Britney Spears and their subsequent break-up, which came as a shock to all thirteen-year-old girls everywhere.
After listening to Justified, it is apparent that Timberlake took his split from Spears quite seriously. Several songs seem to address the aftermath of their highly publicized relationship. The other half seems to address Timberlake's newfound libido. "I think it's a really sexy record," he said at a recent MTV interview. "A lot of it's about sex, but it's done in a genuine way. I don't go on the record and say, 'I'm creeping this girl' because that's not me." Indeed, there are no references to hos, bitches, or grinding, although he "knows a couple of positions for you" and thinks "your body says things [he] never heard" which makes "nasty things go through [his] brain" (on "Right for Me"). Fans of *NSYNC, and Timberlake in general, will find the young man is indeed at his sexual peak, and not afraid to express it.
With his falsetto, prepubescent choirboy vocals, Timberlake portrays a subtle innocence throughout his songs, even when he's trying to tell everyone that he won't be needing Viagra for a long, long time. This works wonders on some songs, but on others, like "(And She Said) Take Me Now," a duet with Janet Jackson, his vocals tend to get lost into the background. Also, it took me several tries to determine which part Jackson sang, as they both (creepily) sound alike on the song. Despite this, Timberlake proves that as a solo artist, he's both talented and charismatic enough to make it on his own.
After the release of Like I Love You, one of the better songs on the CD, Timberlake revealed his transformation from boy band lead to R&B wonder. It was already in the works as of Celebrity (2001) - "Girlfriend" was produced by The Neptunes. But it was "Like I Love You" that cemented the deal, and made fans out of skeptical people worldwide (Michelle included!). Cry Me a River, his second single out later this month, is a ballad with a twist. With heavy beats and Timberlake's signature voice, it's a swansong to his break up with Spears. But he denies this: "I'm not going to say if specifically any song is about anybody. I will say writing a couple of songs on the record helped me deal with a couple of things." And deal he did. "The damage is done, so I guess I'll be leaving. Bridges were burned, now it's your turn to cry. Cry me a river," he sings. I immediately fell in love with this song, which is a rarity. One of its advantages is its originality and cohesiveness.
Other significant tracks include Senorita, a tribute to old school beats interlaced with jazzy overtones. Timberlake playfully intones at the end, "Gentlemen, goodnight. Ladies, good morning." Some may find his cockiness annoying, but for some strange reason, I find it endearing (maybe that's why I always fall for the wrong people?) (Oh No) What You Got is very apparently produced by Timbaland, and with his trademark offbeat rhythms, it works. (And She Said) Take Me Now is a good song, despite Timberlake's androgynous singing. Another homage to old school beats comes in the form of Right for Me, a sex-charged song that utilizes heavy beats, a synthesizer or two, and Timberlake's vocals (and features Bubba Sparxx…what the heck happened to him?). Because of its stripped background, he shines throughout. Nothin' Else, the last track, ends the CD on a good note with its slow drumbeats and Timberlake's smooth singing. The beat sounds familiar, but I can't quite place it (if anyone has heard this and knows the song, e-mail me).
For all the fans out there that wish Timberlake would just stick to his roots, he pacifies them with Still on My Brain, Take It From Here, and Never Again. They're all sappy and sluggish, and not at all in a good way. "Still on My Brain" reminded me of New Edition, while "Never Again," a piano ballad, was reminiscent of a Brian McKnight B-track. Which really comes as no surprise, as McKnight helped produce the track. Last Night is passable, but too much like Michael Jackson, circa 2001. And Rock Your Body is just an update to Jackson's hit, "Rock With You."
Despite which school of thought you hold for Timberlake, there's no denying that he's a talented man, capable of having an extensive career. With Justified, he's proven that he can hold his own in the R&B genre, and probably every other type of music out there. The only problematic aspect of this debut is that with all the reinventing, Timberlake forgot the golden rule: reinvent yourself into something that no one's heard before. Half the CD does just that - the other seems to be a knockoff of Michael Jackson, just to name one. Luckily, Timberlake still has years ahead of him in which to find himself. But for now, Justified is a commendable effort. ¤ C.Ho.
JUSTIFIED: out of 5