By PerfidiousSinn 9 Comments
I know what you're thinking already.
"Justin Timberlake making one of the best albums of all time?" you say. "Impossible. It's pop music, soulless trash written solely to make a profit and not any artistic statement. No pop album can ever be worthy of such lofty praise! Go listen to an actual album."
That's how you sound. And my point still stands that FutureSex/LoveSounds is an important landmark in the world of pop music and music in general. It is less than ten years old, but I still believe that many musicians should take cues from it and learn how to craft a truly great album. Let me explain.
I've been a collector of CDs for most of my life. I don't mean buying them on iTunes, Amazon, or illegally downloading them from the torrents. No, I buy and own the physical discs themselves, and have amassed quite a collection. And while I still buy new CDs and love music in general, I feel like "albums" these days are in general, not as good as they used to be.
I'm not saying that the general quality of music has gotten lower, which is VERY debatable (and in my opinion, not true). I mean the way ALBUMS are created has changed dramatically in my lifetime.
These days, most albums may as well be mixtapes. They are simply collections of songs loosely linked together with some insultingly vague theme. They follow a similar format: brief intro track, 2-3 radio singles, some throwaway songs, more radio singles, ending track. Maybe some skits thrown in if they are feeling particularly fancy.
The albums that almost NO ONE seems to make anymore are like FutureSex/LoveSounds. This album bucks the trend of these lazy pop albums by being incredibly well crafted instead of a glorified mixtape. It's far from a concept album, but the songs on this album share a theme and most importantly, seamlessly blend into each other. This is something pop music has lost these days. I'll explain better by going over most of the tracks on the album.
Where the album truly begins is track 3, "Sexy Ladies". This song effectively ends at 4 minutes and transitions into "Let Me Talk To You (Prelude)".
Instead of making a skit, "Let Me Talk To You" is attached onto the end of "Sexy Ladies" to make sure the listener doesn't skip over it. And they SHOULDN'T because this song isn't just a skit, it's the introduction to the next track, "My Love". It's lyrically related, obviously. But it's also musically related, as the chorus is basically a faster version of the chorus of the next song. The interlude is a perfect warm-up for "My Love", and by the time that track starts, there's no way you aren't already totally into it because of the warm-up!
The transition into the next song, "Lovestoned" is subtler, but this is entirely on purpose because this song is essentially two songs on its own and needs to stand alone from "My Love" to work.
Throughout "LoveStoned", violins swell up at several points in the song. An instrument typically reserved for more emotionally heavy songs doesn't really fit in a silly love song, does it? But maybe this isn't just a silly love song? On one listen, the song could be about the song's narrator lusting after a woman. On another, the song is about the narrator being not only infatuated, but obsessed with this woman. The song breaks down into a sparser production, and the violins move from upbeat to almost sorrowful.
Then, at 4:50 the song transforms. It's no longer upbeat, there's no more beatboxing, and the violins get straight up depressing. The lyrics are the same, but the delivery is sadder now. It's all about context here: the narrator knows that the this woman is the only one for him, but they both know it can never be.
Also, this song is long as hell. 7:24 is far too long for a typical radio single, but Timberlake didn't care. He didn't compromise his artistic vision for radio play, but the song still became a massive hit on the radio and was only slightly edited down for the radio: 5:26 is still VERY long for a radio song.
There's no transition between this song and the next one, but the tone stays. "What Goes Around...Comes Around" has the violins and guitars stick around. The song is lyrically and musically as downbeat as the "I Think She Knows" interlude, and I find it really weird just listening to this song alone. It works so well as a follow-up to "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows" that I feel like I'm missing something when I don't listen to the two songs in succession.
This song is ALSO long as hell because it's another two-parter. The first half is a warning to not be TOO in love with someone, as that will only make it hurt worse if they betray you. Like in "I Think She Knows" when the narrator admits he is obsessed with his lover; they've gone from the highest to the lowest points of love in the two songs.
At about 5:23 in this song, the production in the song gets harder: the drums hit harder and the lyrics become much more direct and talk SPECIFICALLY about the betrayal the narrator felt, and his joy that his lover suffered the same thing. It's a meaner song, and the instrumental changes to reflect this.
Not much to say about this interlude, but do take note of the piano riff and dudes shouting "Ey!" at 6:38. It links into the next song...
"Chop Me Up". Not much to say about this one besides the harder drums, piano and dudes shouting "Ey!" carrying over from the previous interlude. The narrator is still in a somewhat aggressive mood after the previous interlude, but is changing the energy from anger at his previous lover to finding someone new.
The next song "Damn Girl" doesn't have a seamless link to the previous, but it has some interesting musical and thematic connections. The drums on this song sound live and organic as opposed to the processed rap drums of Chop Me Up. The thudding piano is replaced with a 1960s-esque funky synthesizer/organ (I'm bad at instruments, I apologize). And the horns make the whole song feel like something the previous wasn't: live, organic, and natural. Timberlake has returned to singing in his natural falsetto as opposed to the sorta-forced half-rapping. I think this song is meant to represent finding love again, but doing it the right way as opposed to being an aggressive jerk about it.
Not much to say about the next track Summer Love. It's a continuation of the theme of the last song: finding new love, being excited about it, all that jazz, etc. The interlude "Set The Mood" starting at 4:13 is the interesting part. It slows down the pace set from the previous two songs, and sets up the next song, which is much slower. Just need to note the harp here, and how it continues into Until The End of Time.
Now the album is winding down, and the narrator has settled down with someone new in this song. And this is also where my track-by-track commentary will end. The final two tracks are very good (especially the storytelling in Losing My Way), but unfortunately they don't share much besides being slower and less energetic than the beginning and middle of the album.
The key point I want to make here is that FutureSex/LoveSounds is an album that is incredibly well crafted. Not just in terms of the production of the songs, but how it is a totally cohesive album. The interludes at the beginning and end of some songs link together in masterful ways, without being broken up as obtrusive skits that you'd just skip anyway.
Pop albums aren't made like this anymore. Most albums in general aren't made like this anymore, and it makes me sad. I love buying CDs and I still do, but it's been a long time since I've heard an album that flows together as well as this one does and demands to be listened to in its entirety, in one sitting. Too many albums these days are just mixtapes full of singles and skits. FutureSex/LoveSounds is an album that you are truly listening to WRONG if you've got it on random or are just skipping to the singles. That's why it's one of the best.