NSync’s golden boy has finally struck out on his own and the results are, ahem, golden. Though Timberlake had a hand in the creation of every one of its songs, Justified is very much a producer-driven record. The album can be divided into three unequal parts: tracks helmed by the Neptunes, tracks produced by Timbaland and two comparably drab slow jams (“Still on My Brain” and “Never Again,” produced by The Underdogs and Brian McKnight, respectively). Timberlake meshes with the Neptunes so well he virtually relinquishes his personality to the super-duo—he could very well be the third member of N.E.R.D. But that’s not to say their tracks don’t glide along like any other well-oiled Neptunes production. The robust instrumentation of “Señorita” is far from the slinky “I’m a Slave 4 U,” while the acoustic guitar loops and snap-crackle-pop percussion of “Like I Love You” pick up where ‘NSync’s hit “Girlfriend” left off. Pharrell Williams’ typical Jacko-esque falsetto bridges—the ones that have provoked comparisons between Timberlake and the former king of pop—are littered throughout songs like “Last Night.” Timberlake gets a bit less lost in the ultra-distinct fabric of Timbaland’s beats. Justified‘s stand-out track is the string-laden “Cry Me a River,” a stinging farewell (to Britney, perhaps?) featuring beatbox and vocal arrangement courtesy of Timberlake himself. Other Timbo productions like “(And She Said) Take Me Now,” featuring Janet Jackson, and “(Oh No) What You Got” might seem a bit racy for those expecting more boy-band fare. He sings cockily, “‘I could think of a couple positions for you” on the surprisingly organic “Right For Me.” The album is also surprisingly cogent and distinctive, Jacko be damned. In many ways, Justified is what last year’s Invincible shoulda/coulda been.
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