Reading recent interviews with Justin Timberlake in which he talks of this album as constituting "a kick up pop's ass", one might imagine he's made some thrilling new breakthrough. One would be mistaken, as is Justin himself: as the title suggests, FutureSex/LoveSounds is little more than footnotes to Prince, with just the crackhead lament "Losing My Way" disturbing the parade of romantic fantasy and brittle R&B - and even that track could be an outtake from Sign o' the Times.
Not that emulating Prince is necessarily a bad thing (although it doesn't seem to have done Prince much good lately); indeed, for a performer saddled with the millstone of putative heir to Michael Jackson's position as King of Pop, it may represent an escape. But after a while, the combination of compound noun titles - "Sexyback", "Lovestoned", etc - and superstud preening does leave one wondering when Timberlake is going to bring something truly original to his game.
Which is not to say the album doesn't include some infectious dance cuts, as one might expect with Timbaland overseeing matters. It may be Timbaland on "Sexyback" chipping in the cheerleader interjections of "Yeah!" and "Get your sexy on!" as Justin boasts, "I'm bringing sexy back/Those motherfuckers don't know how to act"; it's almost certainly him behind that track's staccato techno chording, the jerky handclap grooves of "Summer Love" and "What Goes Around Comes Around", the needling little Bernie Worrell-style keyboard figure animating the sharp funk riff of "Sexy Ladies", and the stalking electro R&B of "FutureSex/LoveSound", a first cousin to "Another One Bites the Dust".
Timberlake's ambitions are most clearly signposted in the way many tracks are presented as multi-sectioned pieces, with two songs bolted together and the term "prelude" or "interlude" appended to what are postludes. In all cases, it's a move from dancefloor to boudoir: "Summer Love/Set the Mood Prelude" is typical, the opening spartan hip-hop groove supplanted by a smoocher built around a harp arpeggio, while Justin coos his way into his lady's affections.
But the most impressive developments here remain "Losing My Way", in which the regret of an addicted father is salved by a swaying gospel choir climax, and "Until the End of Time", which finds Justin having a rare dark night of the soul: "I [...] heard the TV saying something/About disaster in the world, and/It made me wonder where I'm going." At this rate, that would be Paisley Park, Minneapolis.
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