June 19, 2015 by NowhereButPop
Having never been a teenage girl, I can only assume that Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds was the coming-of-age album for many girls born between 1991-1993. Based purely on the massive acclaim that this demographic lauded the album with, it seems safe to say that FutureSex/LoveSounds was a pretty influential album when it was released in the late summer of 2006. Along with the Red Hot Chili Stadium Arcadium and Nelly Furtado’s Loose, FutureSex/LoveSounds was one of the defining albums of 2006, and in an era where albums are being downplayed in favor of downloadable singles, that is quite the accomplishment. To be able to captivate an audience for an entire summer with only one single the way Justin Timberlake did with “SexyBack” is more of a testament to his skills as an artist than it is to a bunch of teenage girls trying to act more mature than they really were.
Whereas his work with NSYNC was enjoyed by kids, his first solo album Justified was the sound track to a tween’s first heartbreak. Those kids who enjoyed his albums with NSYNC, and then cried over their first breakup to the lyrics of “Cry Me a River”, became the hormonally charged teenagers and young adults who treated Justin Timberlake as the god of love that he professed to be on his sophomore track FutureSex/LoveSounds. While I don’t know for certain, I know that I know some people who lost their virginity to “Summer Love” or “My Love”.
Sex and love and lust and relationships seep through every pore of FutureSex/LoveSounds (duh) as the album is essentially divvied up along the lines of sex and lust vs. love and relationships. Originally planned as a double album with one whole disc devoted to the sex songs (FutureSex) and the other disc dedicated to the love song (LoveSounds), Timberlake decided to go the conservative route and instead release one disc with the same division still realized. For the most part, the first five songs deal with sex and superficial trysts, while the latter seven songs, with the exception of the completely misplaced “Losing My Way”, reflect the album’s more sensitive and romantic side. The only tracks with the words “Sex” or “Sexy” are all found on side one to further illustrate this divide in content and intent.
For an album that tries to give equal real estate to both the carnal and romantic, it’s the sexier songs on FutureSex/LoveSounds that prove to be the best and most memorable. From the erotically sleazy title track to soothingly disarming “My Love”, the up tempo songs, the ones that make you want to get down and dirty are the highlights of the album. On “My Love”, featured artist, T.I. injects some much needed swagger, something that Timberlake doesn’t have in abundance, no matter how hard he tries. Although he’s pleading for love, it seems like nothing more than a cheap promise thinly veiling the desire for a one night stand. Once T.I. steps onto the scene though, his flow, lyrics, and delivery completely overshadow Justin and elevates “My Love” to a higher stratosphere than would have been possibly had Timberlake flown solo on the track. Whereas Timberlake is pleading with his target, T.I. smoothly convinces her that he’s the best option available.
As if stratifying an album between sex songs and love songs wasn’t enough, Justin also unloads a few anachronisms on unsuspecting listeners expecting to hear the actual sounds that he makes whilst copulating. “Damn Girl”, featuring Will.i.am is a throwback to 60s R&B while “Sexy Ladies” has undeniable funk in its blood. As with the best of musicians, in these two instances Timberlake sticks to what he does best, then slowly expands outwards to include other genres like funk and soul. Proceeding this way instead of the other way around, gives these two songs a very natural feel to them that warrants their inclusion on the album.
While most of the “FutureSex” hit their target, the “LoveSounds” songs fall apart as they aren’t as exhilarating or charismatic as their carnal counterparts. Songs such as “What Goes Around” and “(Another Song) All Over Again” have a very distinct, been-there-done-that feel to them, as they sound like outtakes from Justified. “Until the End of Time” is a derived and uninspired attempt at justifying the softer, less exciting half of FutureSex/LoveSounds, while “Losing My Way” is completely misplaced and makes about as much sense as trading three draft picks for Andrea Bargnani. The LoveSounds songs are the ones that are too polished for their own good, as most of side two features songs that are abnormally and synthetically tender, as if producers Timbaland and Rick Rubin mangled these songs into a certain shape just to fit the preordained, overarching motif of the album. Unfortunately, side two sounds like Justin Timberlake and his squad of super-producers decided to force the songs to fit the album; they had this idea of how the album should sound, and then tried to hammer the songs to that sound no matter how bent out of shape some of the ballads were wrought.
With the FutureSex songs masterfully craft, and the LoveSounds songs sorely lacking, the album does succeed at balancing these diametrically opposing forces, by seamlessly transitioning between the FutureSex and the LoveSounds. Median track, “Lovestoned/I Think She Knows”, is the magnum opus of FutureSex/LoveSounds, and arguably Timberlake’s career. It starts off as seductively perky dance track until it slowly slides into an atmospheric and beautiful ballad signifying the transition from impatient lust to mature love. “Lovestoned” is the moment you realize you’ve been struck by love, and that the woman before you is the most amazing and perfect person you’ve ever seen. Few other songs capture that feeling of submitting to love and convey it in such a marvelous and self-reflective way. Timberlake’s subdued whisperings presented in the second half of the song as a revelation, as if he’s coming to the realization himself, only fortify the sincerity and blissful feeling of that moment when you realize you’re in love. Somehow, “Lovestoned” functions as both the best FutureSex song and the best LoveSounds song.
Despite its glaring inconsistency, FutureSex/LoveSounds is still an enjoyable album, if not solely based on the strength of the raunchier songs, then do to the beautiful production of Timbaland. Had Timberlake focused entirely on the FutureSex songs, or if the LoveSounds songs had half as much heart as “Lovestoned”, this album could have been one of the best pop albums in recent history. But, because the second half of the albums drops off almost immediately after “Lovestoned”, listeners are left with two wholly uneven sides. The only salvation found on side two is “Summer Love”, while side one is rife with sexy beats and gushing with assorted bodily fluids. By comparison, side two is just a little limp. FutureSex/LoveSounds is a fun album…until it’s not, and its biggest flaw is that the fun ends too soon.