17 February 2007

lovesex/futuresounds, more like!

that's right, justin, disco sucks! smash it smash it!!
oh, and what's that you say about your ex/love?

meanwhile, just as i've been falling under the starry spell of love, pain, i've also finally succumbed fully to the charms of futuresex/lovesounds. keith urban and justin timberlake both present themselves as lovermen first and foremost, but it's been interesting to consider the contrasts. it's hard to ignore the differences in their real-life (or at least gossip page) public faces: we know that urban is recently married, and from all evidence blissfully happy about it, while timberlake has gone from one much-publicized romance that turned out to be little more than a summer fling to making waves by macking it with the world's sexiest woman and then killing her off on video. and compare keith's liner note love letter to the glaring lack of thank you's in the futuresex booklet - almost unheard of in contemporary top-40 productions.

i had thought "my love" (inspired by cammy, or so we were told) was quite sweet and endearing, but now i feel a little bit exploited. it bears noticing that only maybe three other tracks on the album have similarly romantic sentiments (including two sappy ballads tucked away at the end); the rest are mostly boastful/lustful nightclub narratives in the paris vein. which is fitting: fs/ls gives paris stiff competition as the most inventive and exciting dance-pop album of last year - it's definitely not as consistent, but musically it's at least as inspired if not more so.

i know that some of the popist cabal have questioned why justin has reaped credibility and acclaim from the wider (and especially, hipster) music community while his closest musical peers continue to elicit disdain. (although that's not exactly true in terms of his teenpop-alumni contemporaries: britney's pretty much got the thumbs-up at this point, and while christina's latest wasn't raved about, it certainly wasn't mocked.) i'd argue that justin really is doing something markedly different from standard mainstream dancepop. actually it's timbaland doing it - or at least they're doing it together - but ultimately fs/ls functions almost as much like a hip hop or electronica album as a pop album. or rather, it's a little like all three and ends up being something fairly unique.

timbaland's still-stunning production aside, the album's most striking feature is how fluid its structure is - there are discernable songs, of course, but their songness is pushed and pulled almost to the breaking point, as they stretch beyond standard pop formats into extended breakdown sections, bookending preludes and interludes, flowing and mutating into one another. the clear musical breaks seem to happen in the middle of tracks as often as the end. even though most of the songs have verses and choruses, these are often subservient to the structures established by the groove, production, and orchestration: witness "sexyback," whose lyrically delineated structure ("take it to the chorus") hardly convinces us that it's anything other than a monolithic minimalist groove. (it gets much better when you start thinking of it as an house track rather than a pop song.)

then there are the true epics, the album's twin centerpieces (and masterpieces.) a lot has been written lately about "what goes around...comes around" - suffice to say it's possibly even greater than merely a (pretty damn great in the first place) resurrection and synthesis timbo's past glories: the stutter-beats from the late '90s, the 'eastern' hook c. 2001, and of course the synth symphony of "cry me a river." its less vindictive predecessor is the one i put in the 'cast:

10 lovestoned/i think that she knows Y justin timberlake

i've discussed some of its idiot-savant lyrical subtleties elsewhere - essentially, it's a dancefloor fantasy on par with loose joints' "is it all over my face." and fittingly, while the song part is sweet, it doesn't really take off until three and a half minutes in with a bongo breakdown that spends almost a minute practically begging to launch into full-on beardo space jam territory (there's gotta be a 15-20+ minute edit of this somewhere) before it remembers that it's ostensibly on a pop album. then it unexpectedly switches gears with some micro-emo guitars that usher in the convulsive yet harmonically rapturous "interlude" (if the breakdown was a bit longer, you could almost call it a reprise.)

if the album can't quite sustain the glory of these two back-to-back epics (next to which the first four tracks - including the first two singles - feel almost like preperatory intro material), it still maintains the sense of nearly limitless possibility, its dance-hip-hop-electro-pop love-in persisting even through the two decent but comparatively pedestrian slow jams and the gorgeous, sobering addiction parable "losing my way." in between, we get a pair of hip-hop/r'n'b joints which seem almost run-of-the-(endlessly-innovative-modern-rap)-mill until you consider what they demonstrate about justin's range. and then there's the breezy late album highlight "summer love," which almost approaches the heights of "lovestoned" and "my love," and would have fit perfectly on gold star for robotboy if i had listened to it in time.

it's taken me a while to get a handle on this album, i think because its unorthodox structure doesn't offer many clues about how to proceed. and while i wouldn't say it's flawless or necessarily destined for classic status, i do think it's a stunning piece of work, and a major statement. it's self-assured, but not always sure what it wants to be. in some ways it's a perfect pop record for '06/'07, as the lines between genres and audiences continue to blur and disappear. quite a bit like paris, in fact, it reaches out to many of the best aspects of modern dance music, and brings them together to create something undefinable but vital; experimental in the best sense of the world, an exploratory and open-ended whole. and i can only hope (and trust) that it helps to continue to break down the barriers it so engagingly transgresses - and since justin, for better or worse, seems better positioned to do that than paris is at this point, it's good to know he's on our side.

goddamn i am so excited for the new timbaland album.

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