Justin Timberlake - Justified (2002)To his credit, Justin Timberlake tried something different for what he could have done. Heck, he even did something different for the sake of pop music in general. How many contemporary male R&B singers have the balls to sing "Gentleman, Good Night. Ladies, Good Morning" on their first song? What gives JT the personality to pull it off is all in delivery and likability. Girls want to be with him, guys want to be him. He's got chops all right.
That doesn't make up for a pretty mediocre album. Upon its release, his debut album was hailed as a great solo album from the guy from 'NSYNC, and by those standards it is a step in the right direction. But it also fails on many levels as well, lacking anything to really set him apart from many of the other crooners of the genre, let alone the ones he was trying desperately to set himself apart from. The album opens strong enough with "Like I Love You," a song that benefits tremendously from Clipse's mid-song guest rap. JT takes a spin on the typical structure of such a song and has the bravado to pull it off. He's off to a good enough start and it bodes well for him.
The feeling doesn't last. Most of the album is filled with too-long crooning and trite lyrics that make 98 degrees look like poets in comparison. The Neptunes produce most of the songs on the album and Timbaland guests produce on a few too, but the repetition sets in fast. Most of the songs are forgettable and frankly don't go anywhere at all. But the main thing that Timberlake has control of here are the lyrics. Let's take a look at "Take It From Here," one of the many love ballads from the album. With lines like "I Wanna Be Your Lake, And any problems you Have, I'll Wash Them Away" (Gag) and "Wanna be Your Broadway Show on Review" filling up the bulk of the song, it's clear that there isn't much creativity going on in the songwriting department. Having just listened to David Archuleta's album, it's obvious that these lyrics didn't work for him, and even with a talented enough guy like Timberlake he can't pull them off either. They just aren't meant for being pulled off at all.
Most of the songs are boring on their own and suffer from far too much crooning ("Nothin' Else" makes 2x1-1 Look classy), most of these songs are just too long. Everyone seems bored by the end of "Last Night," a chorus that repeats one too many times, and the bulk of the songs on the album suffer from that. The thing that JT has over everyone else is a recognizable style and a great voice. It isn't utilized here really at all, but his voice does show and is the only reason for listening to any of the songs on this album. He easily goes from his breezy falsetto to a laid-back talk-sing style, that not only makes him distinct in a land of imitators but also gives his music a much-needed addition.
There are songs where things work. "Last Night" may overstay its welcome, but the song is catchy enough that it works for the most part. But the real standouts on the album are the two main singles that broke the guy out, "Cry Me A River" & "Rock Your Body" respectively. "Rock Your Body" is the clear winner for the album. The beat is infectious and so instantly recognizable it joins the ranks of Usher's "Yeah!" as the club anthem of a generation, infectious and catchy as hell one can't help but admire the song. "Cry Me A River" works for the most part as a great ballad if it wasn't for Timabland's need to overproduce every damn song. The beat is too wall-of-noise to really match the music that Timberlake is singing, let alone the mood, that it becomes too much for the song and it stumbles, but for the most part the song works.
I feel it's best to look back at JT's debut as a preview of what's to come. He gets a lot of the crooning out of his system here to make room for the real talent that will show on his follow-up, but the bulk of this album is just too long and boring. The main singles are the real stand-outs here, and anyone else would kill for the songs, but if they weren't by this guy they probably wouldn't stand out nearly as much. Luckily the talent shows through in the future and there is still the best to come.
Standout Track: "Rock Your Body"
Overall Rating: 3.8
* McDonald's. Want to know the relation to JT? Fifth single supposedly from the album, titled "I'm Lovin' It," was released in 2003. The song doesn't appear on the album but was a leftover from the recording sessions. But it was sold to McDonald's and used in an advertising campaign, thus resulting in the annoying jingle we all know today.
* In the background of the music video for single "Like I Love You" is none other than backup dancer Kevin Federline, later on to become famous for relation to Britney Spears. And we all know JT and Britney used to date.* Maxïmo Park also do a cover of "Like I Love You" on a compilation that covers 40 years at the BBC. The Dillinger Escape Plan also do it for their iTunes-only EP Plagiarism. And Basement Jaxx do a remix of it.
* More songs on the album and relation to other bands: The Rolling Stones performed the chorus of "Cry Me A River" several times during "Miss You" in 2003 with Timberlake. Check it out here. New Found Glory also covered it (Found here), Lostprophets, and The Frames.* The beat for "Rock Your Body" was intended for Michael Jackson's comeback album "Invincible" but sold to Timberlake instead. Better move I'm sure. Also, this was the infamous song that was sung at the Superbowl when he says the line "Gonna have you naked by the end of this song" when he pulled off Janet Jackson's cloth. Let the controversy ensue. Makes one wonder if the line would have been "Better read The Raven by the end of this song."
* Vanessa Marquez, the singer on "Rock Your Body" and even more famously (although lesser known) is the jingle "I'm Lovin' It," has done little else. Did background vocals for Usher and Bow Wow and her contract expired and has since done little.