When you first listen to the strains of “Future Sex/Love Sound,” the opening song of Justin Timberlake's new album, you're not really sure if you're listening to a Justin Timberlake song. Slinky electronic beats drive things as Justin sings in a lower register than we're used to. Things get even crazier on “Sexy Back,” the hit single and second song on the album. Justin's voice is not only lower but also electronically distorted. The f-word is even tossed around.
Neither of these two songs sound like what non-Justin fans would expect from him, and that's the point. Future Sex/Love Sounds is Justin Timberlake's breakthrough album, an album that makes listeners take notice. It is a fun album to listen to and makes us eager to hear what he does next.
A lot of the credit for Future Sex/Love Sounds has to go to producer Timbaland. He produced the hit single “Cry Me A River” from Justin's debut, Justified, and is behind the boards on 10 of the 12 tracks on Future Sex/Love Sounds. In Timbaland, Justin has one of the most inventive and eclectic producers in music, one who will use any and every sound imaginable to make a good song. In Justin, Timbaland has finally found a male artist whose willingness to break boundaries and try new things ranks up there with the powerhouse female artists he's worked with in the past.
The power duo (joined by producer Nate Hills) try out multiple genres of music while still keeping things pop enough to make them crossover friendly. The aforementioned electronic excursions of “Future Sex/Love Sound” and “Sexy Back” offer us a Justin we haven't heard before. “Chop Me Up,” which features Academy Award-winning rap group Three 6 Mafia, gives us a taste of dirty south hip-hop. We get taken back to Minneapolis (complete with that signature Prince “sound”) on the smooth ballad “Until The End Of Time” and on the funky “Sexy Ladies.”
Interludes that appear between songs help keep things from sounding too disjointed. The “Let Me Talk To You” interlude between “Sexy Ladies” and “My Love” works so well they kept it in the video for “My Love.” Other transitions sound like they could've been songs by themselves. I like the way Timbaland's drums combine with guitars and piano on the “I Think She Knows,” which appears after “LoveStoned,” and the harmonies on the “Set The Mood Prelude” make you wish it could've somehow been a song all on its own.
There are two songs on the album not produced by Timbaland. These songs are polar opposites in terms of quality. “Damn Girl,” produced by and featuring will.i.am, is not one of the album's shining tracks. The beat isn't bad, but of all the guest appearances on the album, will.i.am's feels the least necessary. “Another Song (All Over Again),” produced by Rick Rubin, is one of the best songs on the album. Rick Rubin has the uncanny ability to bring out the essence of artists and he works his magic on Timberlake. The backing music is the most understated on the whole album and Justin's voice is front and center. He just sings his heart out here without any special effects and the result is great.
Future Sex/Love Sounds is an album that should result in Justin earning more fans. Instead of taking the easy route of jumping onto the pop/rock bandwagon or making stuff that sounds like Justified 2.0, he tries new things. It's difficult for an artist to balance the desire to do something different with the necessity of appealing to his fans, but Justin Timberlake manages to do so on this album. If he can keep this up, he can have a nice, long career if he wants it.