Urban Contemporary, 2002
Justin Timberlake has been getting it easy. While his fellow Mickey Mouse Club alumnus Christina Aguilera has been taking flak for trying too hard to be ghetto and street, the very so-called “urban” audience that rags on Christina seem to embrace Justin Timberlake – who’s more WASP than Christina who’s of mixed heritage – who tries just as hard to be streetwise in an effort to erase his NSNYC ties. While I completely ignore Nick Carter’s solo effort, I pick this up, intrigued and hoping to see just where Mr Timberlake did right that Ms Aguilera didn’t.
Well, the boy got spunk, that’s all I can say. He can really rock the house. Even at his horrid falsetto voice, he still has me swaying along to his music. Like Ms Aguilera, Mr Timberlake explores a diverse source of sounds here, from Latin (the really good Señorita, ruined by the silly singalong chanting towards the end) to R&B to even rock.
The tracks are good, but overproduced, by overexposed and increasingly tired producers like the Neptunes and with collaborations with Janet Jackson and Brian McKnight and other R&B acts who have no more street cred left and now all they want is a some royalty from Mr Timberlake’s CD. There is nothing wrong with Like I Love You, Take It From Here, and (And She Said) Take Me Now, but apart from this man’s sheer charisma that shines even through the most overproduced fluff, Mr Timberlake comes off as a Michael Jackson wannabe with a touch of Usher’s “ladies, let me love ya and take off your clothes” ‘romanticism’. Justin Timberlake is cruising on nostalgia (Like I Love You is an updated Billie Jean crossed with Smooth Criminal) and if he’s not careful, he’ll end up Bobby Brown to Janet Jackson’s Whitney. When Mr Timberlake’s doing falsetto, he is Michael Jackson.
It is only on the operatic rock track Cry Me a River that Mr Timberlake’s thin but effective voice and the latent sexuality that made him a poster gay icon and object of lust of too many people who should know better are put to devastatingly effective use. Can a song be lasciviously predatory? That’s Cry Me a River, and I need to fan myself.
Justified is splendorous soft porn music to my ears, but at the same time, it makes me wonder that were he not lucky, Justin Timberlake would have easily ended up one of those Michael Jackson impersonator strippers at adult clubs. Yes, this man has the star power, but I wish he’ll find his own thing instead on cruising on New Jack Swing and Michael Jackson sounds of the 1980s. Then again, I also wish that Michael Jackson hasn’t gone crazy and he still makes those wonderful music like he used to. Cry Me a River indeed.