Justin Timberlake has been crowing for some time about his plans to bring sexy back.
After hearing his burgeoning soul-pop chops on 2002's multiplatinum ``Justified" and witnessing a smoking show at Avalon last month, we believed that the fleet-footed and falsettoed former 'N Sync heartthrob could make it happen. The news that he was trying to do it with songwriter-producer Timbaland was even more encouraging.
Unfortunately, the hot-blooded promise of that performance gets slightly lost in the translation on the pair's fundamentally strong but sometimes chilly and mechanized work on ``FutureSex/LoveSounds," Timberlake's sophomore release, out today.
Half of the dozen tracks -- 10 of which are Timbaland co-creations -- are unqualified dance - pop delights. First single ``SexyBack" has already proven itself as a dance-floor dominator thanks to a feverish, funky, and futuristic confidence, and the hitching, Prince-ly boudoir number ``Until the End of Time" is a nice slice of psychedelic soul, complete with strings.
Of the sassy six that hit the mark, the song ``What Goes Around" is far and away the standout. While it treads almost exactly the same ground -- cover your ears, Britney -- as previous hit ``Cry Me a River ," it proves that revenge is still a dish best served up on lilting beats and airy harmonies.
The other half-dozen songs on ``FutureSex" maddeningly contain irresistible and inventive vocal or instrumental bits wrapped in songs that are neither. It's like eating delicious pie filling out of stale crust.
The Timbaland tracks that fall short don't lack ambition, but their sensual pleasures are curtailed by the bloodless nature of working with drum machines. The cascading keyboards of ``My Love," the sighs of ``Summer Love," the strong, unadorned vocals and nicely modulated gospel choir of the simplistic cautionary tale ``Losing My Way" are all nice touches that have enough charm to move the feet but not enough lyrical or melodic strength to hit the gut.
The two outsider cuts are an interesting study in opposites. The Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am presides over the quirky, busy, not wholly successful '60s soul throwback ``Damn Girl, " which rides over a bizarrely angular yet funky organ sample. And Rick Rubin applies his trademark sparseness to the closing ballad ``(Another Song) All Over Again." It strives to be Donny Hathaway and features a pleasingly plaintive Timberlake vocal, but its generic ``please don't go girl" platitudes fall perilously close to Donny Osmond on the soul meter.
At Avalon, Timberlake had the advantage of a great drummer, back-up vocalists, and his own unmolested voice. On ``FutureSex," with its wheedling synths, multitracking, and vocal distortion, some of the lesser tracks reveal themselves to be just that. But if Timberlake is aiming to nab a throne on the royal pop dais -- now seating Prince , erstwhile King of Pop Michael Jackson , and undisputed legends like Stevie Wonder , Marvin Gaye , and James Brown -- it's a little too early in his career to be moonwalking on filler.
Six of 12 would be a failing grade in school. But in music's new world order of gratitude for more than three good tracks on an album, ``FutureSex/Love Sounds" passes on the strength of how right the right answers feel.