Chock-full of ire-filled pop ditties glazed with a tarty blend of pop/R&B and a dash of electronica, ’Nsync’s generally gratifying third album, Celebrity, is both slightly overcooked and a tad overzealous. It’s a recipe that has brought Michael Jackson success throughout the years, and while the world curiously awaits his comeback, ’Nsync have released a pop album that more than fills the void.
Jackson’s influence on the boy-band-turned-envelope-pushers is clear from the set’s first single, “Pop.” Justin Timberlake’s Jacko-esque snarls and biting lyrics attempt to prove ’Nsync is all about “the music” and not pre-packaged capitalism. Despite radio’s lukewarm acceptance, electronic producer BT pumps the track up with enough two-step grind to give Craig David a run for his money in the race to break the Euro-genre in America.
JC Chasez teams with remixers Rip Rock ’N’ Alex for more two-step action on three of the album’s tracks. “The Game Is Over” picks up where the group’s “Digital Get Down” and “Space Cowboy” left off, escalating Chasez’s penchant for video game electronica to a literal level with an actual Pac-Man sample. “The Two of Us” and the high-energy “Up Against the Wall” are about as risqué as ’Nsync is going to get, and the former is essentially an invitation for an X-rated casual encounter: “Waiting for your call/’Cause tonight we’re gonna do it all.”
While there’s no doubt ’Nsync are continuing to redefine the uncertain state of pop, Celebrity’s slower numbers recall the banalities of that other boy band. Brian McKnight, schooled in the lustrous production style of Babyface, helps ’Nsync fully realize their famous pedigree on the track “Selfish.” The Motown sounds of groups like Boyz II Men are the true ancestry of the boy-band phenomenon, but songs like “Something Like You” are more watered-down pop than classic soul. It’s unfortunate that the group couldn’t completely discard the classic hit-making formula in favor of the more experimental pop that seems so inherent in this and their last album, No Strings Attached.
But that’s not to say that what’s old is broken. There’s no denying the allure of typical Max Martin fare like “Tell Me, Tell Me…Baby” and “Just Don’t Tell Me That,” which fit snugly in between the hyper-kinetic verve of “Pop” and the straight-up R&B of “Girlfriend” (a song that would, in fact, sound inconspicuous on any urban radio station). But it might take more than Celebrity’s laundry-list of influences and styles to prove that Timberlake and the boys are Jackson-caliber long-term players. If they can completely shed their pop skins and survive the growing pains (along with their aging fans), ’NSync could make the brave step toward becoming The Beatles of their generation.