pener “Senorita” knocks you off your feet immediately. A brilliant, pingy electric piano provides the main chordal accompaniment, while a cowbell chimes cheerily in the background. Pharrell, everybody’s current favorite producer, announces our protagonist “All the way from Memphis, Tennessee...” Justin Timberlake. The rhythm section of the song is brilliant, a simple, yet distinctive beat that could only come from the Neptunes. The song allows for much amusement in the last minute and a half with a sing-along that is more wonderful and surprising than most artists have offered us this year.
Track 2, “Like I Love You”, isn’t too shabby either. A wonderful and dense Spanish guitar sample strums throughout the song, signaling another Neptunes production. Scores of Justin’s sing all sorts of vocal hooks over each other. The Clipse come in about halfway through with a sublimely lazy rap trade-off. “Funny how a few words can turn into sex” Malice intones calmly. The end of the song is just as wonderful if not more so than “Senorita”’s. The music drops out suddenly and a slippery keyboard figure takes its place. Justin begins talking, “you know, I used to dream about this when I was a little boy. I never thought it would end up this way”. Justin pauses for a millisecond before commanding the universe to return. “Drums.”
Few songs on the album are as perfect as these two, but many of them are nonetheless excellent. “Take it from Here”, with its lazy strings and a beat that drags just a little behind the rest of the song, gives the impression of a sleepy summer day. Timberlake speaks a variety of hyperboles ‘I want to be your air’, ‘I want to be your answer’, and so on. Timberlake nails that dizzy kind of puppy love that his target audience so desires.
Timbaland’s great production on the album is Timberlake’s second single, “Cry Me a River” (not the Weill standard). The song is made up of surprisingly experimental sounds placed together in thrilling new ways. A saw wave synth buzzes closely to the real strings, creating a strange dissonance. Timberlake’s chirped and belted-out vocals watercolor the song with the appropriate depression for the story. The song disintegrates into a choral reading of the chorus with Timberlake pleading over the group. The bass sound (more like a thunderclap in the background) comes in for a moment and Timbaland’s bizarre vocal sample (which turns out to have been a prevalent part in the song) takes over for the final few disorienting seconds.
There are a few mis-steps (the closing ballad, most notably, which approaches easy listening with a couple tastelessly John Tesh-like chords plunked out on a million dollar grand piano), though. Timberlake’s more masculine persona (as established in the first two songs) is not maintained enough for this album to ‘redeem’ his girly boy band image, but the rest of the album paints a picture of a complicated young man, growing into adulthood. What more can we ask?
Reviewed by: Tyler Martin
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01