As you might’ve discovered from some of my earlier reviews, I used to be a big Nsync fan. Naturally, when Justin Timberlake released his solo debut Justified in 2002, I was first in line to snag a copy.
It’s easy to say that Timberlake was out to set himself apart from Nsync with his solo album, and he does that just fine. Timbaland and The Neptunes produced the majority of the album, and guest spots from The Clipse, Bubba Sparxxx, and Janet Jackson are a far cry from Nsync songs like Bye, Bye, Bye. But despite all the guest appearances, the album (which surprisingly went on to win two Grammys) is really just another disc of hits and misses.
The album starts with the first of many Neptunes produced tracks, Senorita. The song proves to be a great opener for the album- from the Latin guitar, down to the pulsating beat and Timberlake’s breezy vocals, the track is a perfect one for setting the tone to a (mostly) upbeat and fun album.
Like I Love You was the first single from the album, and was the first taste of what Timberlake’s solo material would be like. More smooth production from the Neptunes and a catchy chorus made this song a hit with most people, though it’s not one of my favorites. This song provides the first taste of the less than stellar lyrics (“I kind of noticed, from one night/From the club, your front face/It’s kind of weird to me/Since you’re so fine/If it’s up to me your face will change”) that appear throughout the album.
Take It From Here is the album’s first ballad, running over six minutes long. Again, produced by the Neptunes, the song works well with soft vocals and a pretty guitar hook. Timberlake’s vocals are calm and soothing, and he sounds great in the song as he tells a girlfriend how much he loves her. Though the sentiment is nice, the bad lyrics return, especially in lines like, “I wanna be your Broadway show on review/So I can act out how God was when he made you” and “I wanna be your mother/See what I see/And when you see that can’t nobody hold you like me/Cause I love you”. Lyrically, the song is reminiscent to a high school freshman writing his first girlfriend a love letter, but despite the fact that I cringe a lot during the song, the melody and vocals are still nice enough to make this one of the tracks that I enjoy listening to on the album.
Next up is another single from the album, Cry Me A River. The track, produced by Timbaland, caused a lot of controversy (particularly the music video) as it was released not long after Timberlake’s break up with Britney Spears, and is obviously based on his feelings towards her. Timbaland gives the song a nice club-worthy beat and Timberlake’s vocals are equally good. Rock Your Body was also a hit single released from the album. Comprised of a disco sound and whiny vocals (and believe it or not, the song was originally intended for Michael Jackson’s comeback album Invincible, but after Jackson had a “falling out” with the Neptunes, the song was given to Timberlake instead.) the song doesn’t have much going for it besides being annoyingly catchy.
Although I was going to try and review this album without making any MJ comparisons, Last Night is SO reminiscent of some of the King Of Pop’s songs that I’d be an idiot to avoid saying so. The funky beat sounds like some of Jackson’s songs on his Dangerous album, and Timberlake even enunciates in Jackson’s trademark style (which means singing in falsetto, clipping off the end of words, “snarling” through the chorus…he even lets out an “Oww!” during the bridge!). All that aside, this is one of my favorite songs on the album. The song is danceable and fun (with a killer bridge- my favorite part of the song!), and even if Timberlake is blatantly copying from the book of Jackson, he does a nice job of it. Still, if his solo career doesn’t work out, he can always become a Michael Jackson impersonator.
Let’s Take A Ride is another of my favorites. The Neptunes lend Timberlake another great beat (this time a bit mellow with clapping and snapping in the background), and again, Timberlake’s vocals are flawless. Like Take It From Here the song leans to sappy/corny territory as Timberlake sings to a girlfriend that’s going through hard times (“Girl you’re the best/You could be/An angel among society/But you get crushed/From what you see/You try to hard to help and that’s enough for me”), but Timberlake sounds so good singing it that I’ll forgive him this time.
Of course, for every good song, there’s a bad one. Besides having an annoying title, (Oh No) What You Got is a boring song in which the highlight is Timbaland repeatedly asking “Mr. JT, what ya got for me?” The rest of the song features irritating backing music, and even Timberlake’s vocals begin to grate by the second verse. Nothin’ Else is a mid-tempo ballad with lyrics that make me want to strangle The Neptunes and Timberlake for writing them (“You’re out of this world/Except you’re not green”- not to mention another handful of poorly written lines and non sequiturs). Still On My Brain is another ballad, but it’s so bland that I usually forget that it’s on the album. (And She Said) Take Me Now is the track that features Janet Jackson, and neither she, nor producer Scott Scorch add anything that makes it worth listening to. Finally, Right For Me featuring Bubba Sparxxx, is another dud, and it’s no wonder why he’s only had a handful of hit songs (and is it just me, or I am the only one that is appalled by how ridiculous Ms. New Booty is? I just don’t understand).
The album ends with Never Again, a ballad produced by Brian McKnight. As I’ve stated before, anytime McKnight produces a ballad for another artists’ album, it ends up sounding exactly like his past songs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that- and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it on this track. The song, simply composed of piano, strings, and Timberlake’s vocals, is one of the highlights of the album. Timberlake’s voice is beautiful and his emotions seem raw as he sings “And loneliness only wants you back here with me/Common sense knows that you’re not good enough for me/…My heart may never mend/And you’ll never get to love me/Again”. The track provides a great closer to the album.
All in all, Justified is a decent album. Though most of it seems to fall flat with poor lyrics, useless guest spots, and some bad production, it’s still easy to say that Timberlake has talent, and ultimately completed his task of setting himself apart from Nsync. A few good songs and the singles make the album, and fans of Timberlake or Nsync will enjoy the disc for years to come.
2. Like I Love You
3. (Oh No) What You Got
4. Take It From Here
5. Cry Me A River
6. Rock Your Body
7. Nothin’ Else
8. Last Night
9. Still On My Brain
10. (And She Said) Take Me Now
11. Right For Me
12. Let’s Take A Ride
13. Never Again