Like, what the hell happened? This album is a quantum leap in quality from No Strings Attached. It’s not even remotely close. Some of this is actually…good. And it really makes a case that, at least sometimes, it’s good that the talent take over from the handlers in the manufactured pop music space. Because, well, it seems like Timberlake and Chasez should have been running the show all along.
The first thing that really impressed me was how relatively “avant garde” some of the upbeat tracks were. (And meta!) There is some aggressively strange music in some of these mainstream pop songs, and I’m sure it is at least partially the result of the collaborators (BT for example). But still…they did it.
The quality of the material is all over the place but that is to be expected, especially given that Timberlake was just getting his feet under him as a songwriter. He’s clearly passed Chasez as the better writer even though Chasez had the longer track record at this point. Timberlake’s songs are uniformly better. But the main thing to remember is: some of the material is actually very good for this genre and some of it likely stands up outside of the boyband world. That’s saying something, given how formulaic most of this is.
Timberlake still has that annoying affect to his voice. I don’t know his solo career at all so I don’t know when he stopped singing this way, but it is kind of annoying. He sounds juvenile and full of fake attitude, even though he’s clearly the best singer here.
The ballads are mostly worse than the more upbeat tracks and a lot of this is probably more due to the production than the song quality. The more upbeat songs are usually the ones that feature the more out there production (with an exception or two). And, as with most of these albums, the sequencing is pretty blah – the first half has all the hits and everything does lag after that. But that’s pretty typical.
But, given the standards of the ’90s boyband genre as a whole, this feels like some kind of miracle, in terms of how often it leaves the formula behind – or at least provides better than average examples of the boyband formula. I’m gobsmacked.