It is testament to Justin Timberlake that being the lead vocalist of boy band N*Sync seems to have totally evaporated from the minds of many music listeners as he has been able to craft a solid solo career that has now spanned 13 years.
The hype in 2002 surrounding this album was at an extreme temperature with most music critics poised to shoot down what would surely be just another boy band singer whose career wouldn’t live long past his debut album.
Timberlake had the advantage of being given the hottest producers in the game with The Neptunes and Timbaland taking the reigns for all but two of the thirteen tracks.
“Justified” was an album full of hits. At least 9 of the 13 songs could have easily been hit singles (4 of them were) as Timberlake released an album to the world which catered for fans of N*Sync, R&B lovers, Soul music followers and even the Hip Hop heads were given satisfaction.
It was never going to be easy to shake off the tag of being a bubblegum pop artitst but there is no doubt that Justin Timberlake absolutely kills it with this debut set.
Kicking us off is “Senorita” which is a R&B track with a very Jazzy feel. You could imagine ‘Senorita’ being played in a smoky jazz club with Timberlake in a three piece suit and a top hat with the Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo on the drums and piano. It’s a song about a guy trying to get a girl and telling her how much he likes her.
The lead single from the album was “Like I Love You”. Again it is the Neptunes at the helm (Pharrell is in the video) as Timberlake completely breaks away from his boy band past. The vocal arrangement on this track is what really makes it what it is. Timberlake uses every bit of his range during this song and it works perfectly. “Like I Love You” is timeless in the sense that it sounds just a modern and fresh when played today than it even did back in 2003. Nothing I have heard sounds like this song and if anyone has even attempted the same style it has never even come close.
The rap on the song comes from twin brother The Clipse. It gives the song further edge and give the track a rounding which it required.
“(Oh No) What You Got” sees Timbaland make his entrance onto the album. It’s a very Timbaland style formula used on the production but it’s always worked so why change it now? It’s probably one of the least memorable tracks from the album but again it shows Timberlake delving into new territory.
“Take It From Here” is Timberlake slowing it down for a love song. He is certainly channeling Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder during this track which is descriptive, sickly sweet at time, but most importantly – it works. It’s not a sexy song in any way but it has a sentiment which he is able to deliver in a vocal that mixes a defiance with softness.
“When all the love feels gone
And you can’t carry on
Don’t worry Girl
Imma Take It from here.”
“Cry Me A River” ditches the sweetness and goes into full scale bitch mode. The song is said to have been about pop star Britney Spears who Timberlake was in a relationship with. The song sees our protagonist tell his girlfreind that he knows she has been cheating and she found out from the guy she was cheating with. He is uninterested in her protestations and is telling her to “Cry Me a River”. The whole song works well and it could be no shock that it is one of the most succesful songs he ever released.
The mood is lightened with “Rock Your Body” which you could argue was production duo The Neptunes opus. They produced a lot of songs during their reign but this one always sticks out to me. It filled dancefloors and took massive influence from Michael Jackson. It was a standout on first listen to “Justified” and will still be played in 20 years time.
“Nothin Else” is one of the weakest efforts on the album. It’s a smooth chilled out number which musically sounds pleasent but the lyrics are confused and a little silly.
“There’s nothing else that I have seen
There’s no getting around it
Or in between
You’re out of this world
Except you’re not green
You don’t know what you mean”
We then go into “Last Night” which is another Neptunes number. It’s a good tune although I swear I can hear the melody for Van Mcoy’s disco tune “The Hustle”. I enjoy this song because Timberlake (like on Cry Me a River) is in a angry and quite bitchy mood.
Can’t believe what I was hearing
Telling me to have a nice life
I don’t think I’ll spare your feelings
You’re on your own
I’ma do for me what’s right”
“Still On My Brain” is one of two songs not produced by Timbaland or The Neptunes. This track is Timberlake attempting to mix it with the Neo Soul artists such as Musiq Soulchild. It’s probably the most soulful track on the album but it is a little bit too polite considering the more edgy tunes he has on this album.
And there is nothing more edgy on “Justified” than “(And She Said) Take Me Now”. It is the most overly sexual track on the album which is probably why it wasn’t released as a single. Janet Jackson provides some backing vocals on the some of the best work Timbaland has produced for an R&B artist since Aaliyah.
“Just let me take the lead
All you gotta do is let your mind be free
Lets hit the floor and cause a scene
Get real wet if you know what I mean
What you say baby?”
“Right For Me” is a hand clapping, foot tapping number. It’s my least favourite song on the album simply because Timberlake’s vocal in the chorus is boring and quite annoying.
“Let’s Take A Ride” is probably the closest to an N*Sync track on the album. It has that mid tempo tune with an acoustic guitar controlling the song with lyrics that are just a bit too simple to be taken seriously.
“Let’s take a ride, on the country side
Let’s just get away
We can spend the night, till the morning light
Let’s just get away”
“Never Again” is written by American R&B artist Brian Mcknight. It sounds very similar to the N*Sync track “Gone”. It is slushy and not in the same vain as anything else on the album. This track is boring, formulaic, and offers nothing at all to the album. It could be one of the worst songs Justin Timberlake has ever made.
Overall this was a stellar debut album. For the most part it is inventive, modern, and has the ability to stand the test of time.
The rating of this album is difficult. As a modern album in the R&B field it is an excellent album. As a debut set it is impressive. The individual songs for the most part work and I have to say I find “Justified” extremely enjoyable.