Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds
Record Label: Jive Records
In case anybody hadn't noticed after the 2002 release of Justified, our little precious darling Justin Timberlake is all grown up. Gone are the squeaky-clean stylings he presented as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club, banished is his requisite mid-90s bleach blonde dye-job in boy band NSYNC, and never again will he try to cop a juvenile feel from Janet Jackson for all the free world to see.
Timberlake's sophomore release, FutureSex/LoveSounds, is by no means the work of an ambivalent rookie artist vocalizing his insecure introspection and attempts at self-discovery. He is not afraid to be overtly sexual, whether it be through booty-drop inducing beats or lyrics that toe the line expertly between insinuating and explicit.
Timberlake, coupled with an all-star cast of producers including Timbaland, Rick Rubin, and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, manages to skirt this lyrical line while providing the perfect backdrop of genre-crossing R&B riffs, techno-influenced synth and even hints of Eastern instrumentation. The record begins with the stomp-clap midtempo dance beat "FutureSex/LoveSounds" which, as Timberlake breathily asks "Just tell me the way you like that," could be the counterpart to Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous Girl," also produced by Timbaland. The dance beat quality of the record is reinforced by "Sexy Ladies," an even-paced funk track that immediately calls to mind Prince with its twangy bass riff; "Love/Stoned," a clap-rhythmed, string-supported homage to a girl that's "flawless like some uncut ice" that he hopes "is coming home with [him]" tonight; and "Damn Girl," a track featuring will.i.am that showcases Timberlake's signature falsetto with a chorus and horn section spawned from '70s soul.
Even with evidence of his maturation in sexual lyrics and comprehensive musical composition, Timberlake is not afraid to draw upon past experiences for inspiration (i.e. that time he and Britney Spears had an evidently bitter breakup after dating for a billion years).
"What Goes Around. . .Comes Around" at first listen seems like a "Cry Me a River Part Deux," but giving the track a second chance reveals its lush musical arrangement and vocal maturity. The song slides into a familiar cantering beat and repetitive hook but only after an unexpected sitar intro, and a string arrangement enhances both the level drum pulsing and ethereal vocal harmonies. Lyrically the song is much more than a continuation of "Cry Me a River" with lines like "it's breaking my heart to watch you run around/Cause I know that you're living a lie/But that's OK, baby, cause in time you will find/What goes around comes around." A definite tone of finality and acceptance is apparent as he doesn't give a rat's ass if she's still crying a river-if there was in fact a battle between Britney and Justin, Justin walked away with the championship belt and Britney walked away minus shoes but plus two babies with Kevin Federline. Point: Justin.
"Summer Love," another gem featuring Timbaland, incorporates his never stale stomp-clap beat into a swirling synth hook to which Timberlake perfectly harmonizes; if I had to pick a second radio single, it would definitely be this. Unfortunately the wind eludes the sails with the closing tracks, namely "Losing My Way," which sounds like a bad after school special about a drug addict, and "Set the Mood," a song that is a little too All 4 One/"I Swear" to be taken seriously.
Timberlake calls upon perennial influences Michael Jackson and Prince for this record in a reverent rather than blatantly plagiaristic way, masterfully coupling their dance, pop, and R&B sensibilities with contemporary hip-hop rhythms, dancefloor synth, and lush vocal harmonies in a way that holistically blows Justified out of the water. FutureSex/LoveSounds crosses sonic boundaries while being exactly that: A record to which someone will have sex in the future and, incidentally, emit some of the high-pitched coos for which Timberlake is famous. FS/LS is sure to become a mainstay on Top 40 radio and all of the Billboard charts, solidifying Timberlake as a veritable neo-Jackson, or at least one of the most creative popular musical geniuses of our generation.