3.5 out of 5 stars.
Justin Timberlake successfully escaped the boy-band downturn and came out a bigger star than he was in 'NSync. His last album, Justified, was one of the most entertaining albums of 2002, not to mention a very sophisiticated R&B record.
So when this album came out last week, in the midst of a new single that's been scorching radiowaves all summer, I was pretty eager to see what else Justin had to offer. The album opens with another synthed-up Timbaland beat, then thumps its way into SexyBack, Justin's proclamation that he's reintroducing Sexy to the rest of us. We didn't really know it had left, but that's why he's there, isn't it?
The absolute winner on this album is Track 4, "My Love", a romantic offering with strong vocals, a wicked hook, and saccharine lyrics ("I can see us holding hands, walking on the beach, our toes in the sand") that, somehow, I can buy coming from this guy. T.I.'s cameo on this track is entertaining enough, but unnecessary.
The next track, "LoveStoned", gives us a freaky girl and a nice funk guitar sample that makes you wish Bootsy Collins had a cameo, rather than just a sample. Who needs T.I., seriously?
"What Goes Around" is a step back to the last album, a bit of a "Cry Me A River" sequel, opening intriguingly with a sitar, but letting it go in 10 seconds. The interlude, "...Comes Around", is a strong rant (presumably at Britney, but JT denies it), which could have been a song on its own.
"Chop Me Up" with Three 6 Mafia, is a Dirty South rap joint which works, but is a bit out of place on this record. Maybe Justin should have visited them on their next record.
The album's low point, and that is to say very low, is "Losing My Way," about Bob, who works at his job, and "makes forty-some dollars a day." Well, poor Bob is a crackhead, and Justin decided he would give us a PSA about how crack is whack. Please, Justin, just give me more sexy, or maybe some futuristic love type of stuff. I'll watch public access for the crack message.
The last song is produced by Rick Rubin, and really takes it back to some old soul/real rhythm and blues. Down-tempo, lean piano, unpretentious vocal production, this is the love-making song of the album.
The first nine songs get you from the dance floor into bed, number 10, "Unitl The End of Time" has the modern R&B love-makin' beat, then 11 makes you wonder why you went to bed with this guy who just got all socio-political on you, but number 12 is his apology for getting weird on you during it all, and hey, it works.
Unfortunately, this album strikes me as a bit too schizophrenic. There seems to be a point where the songs went from FutureSex (Side A) to LoveSounds (Side B), at about track 10. But in between, the bounce from R&B to hip-hop to soul and back was too startled. Justified made me think Michael Jackson moving to Bahrain, both mentally and physically, wasn't a big deal, because someone else could wear the glove and moonwalk us back to 1981 and real pop music. Though Timbaland might think so, this is no Thriller. It's no Purple Rain. But it's the best thing that pop has offered since, well, the last album. 3.5 out of 5.