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It's Not Quite Everything I Thought It Was Gonna Be

Is there anything Justin Timberlake can't do? The singer, songwriter, published author, semi-remembered actor, teen heartthrob, and three-time troll has managed to stay on the right side of public approval for 20 years; accomplishing all that and more between his high-profile public outings, red carpet appearances, and tenth wedding anniversary celebrations. The Prince of Pop has no doubt earned and maintained his mythic status over the years, but as with all good myths, our egocentric heroes must always have a weakness-- Icarus' hubris, Hercules' anger, Kanye West's Kanye West-ness; an Achilles Heel is necessary to humanize an otherwise celestial figure. Timberlake's heel is his inability to stave off the symptoms of midlife crises.

Timberlake's sixth studio album, Everything I Thought It Was, was unleashed upon our unsuspecting ears this past Friday, March 15. This latest LP was his first full-length release since 2018's critically unacclaimed Man of the Woods, and was intended to signal the beginning of a new chapter in the boy wonder's confused and wayward solo career. The over-produced and unabashedly boring record does little to hide Timberlake's graying hairs, waffling around aimlessly through early 'aughts pop euphimisms and ripped-off Dua Lipa disco beats. Despite that, Billboard still debuted the album as the week's "favorite new music," as voted on by a staggering 61% of listeners (or more accurately, 61% of the robots that still look to Billboard as a reputable source for good tunes and good taste), which stands out as a stamp of shy, nostalgia guided approval amidst an onslaught of dissatisfaction and indifference.

Everything I Though It Was was doomed from the moment Timberlake opened his mouth on the intro track, "Memphis." After 30 seconds of warped instrumental warbling, Timberlake sheepishly stumbles in front of the mic, mumbling, "'You gon' be a star,' they said," crooning through a "we made it, momma" sob story that would have better suited a decades younger JT or another artist entirely. Timberlake fluctuates between regressive, dated one-liners and oddly mature themes throughout the album, offering little more than a desperate plea to be taken seriously following his decades long transition from babyfaced Teen Vogue cover star to the old guy who voices Branch in the Trolls franchise.

Timberlake's latest release finds itself unable to choose between grownup re-re-reinvention and sentimentality brined half-bakes that only leave you craving the original. He was obviously chasing "Suit & Tie" levels of success on the records groovier, more radio friendly songs like "No Angels" and "My Favorite Drug." While these two tracks aren't necessarily bad on their own, and very well could have been better received had they been recorded by an artist 15 years younger and considerably less married, they unfortunately fit more of the requirements for mall radio than Billboard nostalgia bait.

This is not to say that Everything I Thought It Was is completely irredeemable, there are several high highs mixed in indiscriminately amongst the low lows. "F**ckin' Up The Disco," while generally corny and derivative of modern funk-disco inspired pop music, easily stood out as one of the more genuine and true to form JT songs on the entire record. It's catchy, it's got a good beat and a bass line you can't help but get down to-- it's an admittedly excellent groove, and a perfect contrast to the slower jams on the album. Tracks like "Technicolor," "Conditions," and my personal standout from the album, "Imagination," while not necessarily unique songs, are all gorgeous and heartfelt in their own rites. "Conditions" especially captures the image of an older Timberlake grappling with his age and the new 'conditions' under which he must operate as an artist, husband, father and well-rounded person. Unfortunately, "Conditions" and the other bright spots run a tad long in an effort to draw attention away from creep shows like "Infinity Sex" and the remains of the midlife crisis that inspired the rest of the record.

Everything I Though It Was was meant to be Timberlake's latest reinvention, a hot, steamy, sexy reminder that dad's still got it, and a not-so-subtle nudge that he used to be an avid non-monogamous sex haver. Unfortunately, the worldwide success of the latest installment in the Trolls franchise and Timberlake's grappling with his increasingly convoluted legacy and impending twink death, reduces whatever good or mediocre work Timberlake put forth on this record down to the ramblings of an aging man looking back on his glory days.

Rob Lucchesi


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