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The Daily Tar Heel

Timberlake's Debut Doesn't Justify Leaving Band Behind

Justin Timberlake
Justified

There are a lot of motivating factors in making a solo album -- even when your group is selling millions of records.

There's the need to go in a new musical direction, the desire to get breathing room from pesky bandmates or the opportunity to gain attention as an individual artist.

For 'NSync crooner Justin Timberlake, it's the chance to make your dream party mix. Except that when you've sold as many albums with your old group as Timberlake, you get the best people to do the mixing.

Have an affinity for ass-shaking dance grooves? Enlist the producing power of The Neptunes, the men behind hit tracks for Mystikal and Ol' Dirty Bastard.

Do you feel the need for a little stutter and swagger in your hip-hop step? Super-producer Timbaland is at your disposal.

How about a soft spot for smooth R&B balladry? Accept no less than today's standard-bearer -- Brian McKnight.

With these kinds of collaborators, Justified -- Timberlake's first album as a solo artist -- is ensured a respectable showing through the dance floor sound system or living room boombox.

That is, if the listener's musical tastes are a direct match with Timberlake's.

We'll probably never know the extent to which Timberlake came up with the material on Justified -- he's one of several co-authors on each of the 13 tracks -- but it's clear that he wears his musical influences on the album's sleeve.

The album adamantly steers away from 'NSync's instantly catchy pop to the hip-hop swagger and classic soul crooning Timberlake has said comprise his true musical calling.

And whether it was his idea to include a frantic flamenco guitar or an exotic flute as the strong hooks to the album's best two tracks (first single "Like I Love You" and "What You Got," respectively), Timberlake sounds at home vocally navigating the material.

As Timberlake's spoken-word segments become more plentiful and the music starts to drift into mere background beats, Justified evokes the image of a private party -- with Timberlake's favorite producers in the DJ booth while he serenades the guests.

But aside from a few standout tracks, the album probably will fail to draw in the average music fan who isn't already enamored with Timberlake's persona.

It's not that the music lacks originality or that Timberlake sounds silly in his more sexual, sophisticated role. Rather, Justified comes up short due to its inability to emotionally resonate with outside listeners.

From the calculated mish-mash of influences to the choice blend of star producers, this is strictly Timberlake's show, and it's hard for anyone of a different background to take ownership of such an unaccessible spectacle.

Timberlake should be lauded for making a record that he can distinctly call his own. The problem is, his millions of fans -- whose money bought him artistic freedom -- deserve a little something for their own parties.

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The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.