What was I thinking when I decided to plunk down ten bucks on Timbaland’s new album? I should have known better. Timbaland is widely considered one of the best producers in popular music right now, but a closer listen to even his production work reveals questionable talent. For every great one of his kick-heavy beats, there’s 3 or 4 monotonous ones, and it’s hard not to notice that many of the beats boasting his name over the past five years or so have been created with co-producers, making me wonder if his recent pop-centric reinvention is really his creative doing.
As a vocalist, let’s just say Tim is a good producer. He raps in a deep, gruff near-monotone and his singing is a slight variation of the same. Lyrically, he has next to nothing to say other than how rich and/or talented he is-mixed up with an occasional trite love/party song. Even I’ll admit that fellow supa-producer Kanye West is lacking in the rhyme skill department, but Timbo makes Kanye look like Rakim by comparison.
The main reason I bought “Shock Value 2” was the guest artist lineup. The album has a star-studded group of featured performers, ranging from popular artists I like a good amount (Nelly Furtado, Justin Timberlake and The Fray) to artists that I don’t make a part of my everyday listening experience but I can usually tolerate (Drake). Not even the intrigue of hearing how acts like Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and The Fray sounded over a Timbaland beat can stop this album from being a total waste of time and money.
“Shock Value 2” is generally electronic, lyrically slight, and features way too much actual Timbaland. On the songs that show a glimmer of promise, he normally shows up and throws the entire track off course. Take “Timothy Where You Been”, for example. The lush, acoustic-flavored track is actually a winner and I even dig the vocals from Chris Cester of Jet (!). Then Tim pops in rapping about how great an artist he is and I feel like popping my speaker open and yelling into it for him to STFU. Similarly, his equally untalented and monotone brother/protege Sebastian starts in on “Tomorrow in a Bottle” and ruins a pretty decent song by Chad Kroeger. When the presence of the widely-reviled Nickelback lead singer actually makes your song listenable, there is probably a glitch in the matrix.
Of course, the fact that Timbaland can’t really sing leads to an increased focus on vocal effects. Yes, folks. There is auto-tune aplenty here. It’s most notable on the idiotic “Morning After Dark” (“when the cats go out the bats go out to play”…huh?) and on “Lose Control”, where former teen star JoJo follows the trend of perfectly good singers going for the auto-tune trick. I guess Tim only listened to the tracks he produced on “The Blueprint 3” and skipped “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”.
Speaking of Jigga, he’s possibly the most notable Timbaland collaborator missing from this project. Actually, the only rappers that show up on this project besides Tim himself are the aforementioned Sebastian, “it” rapper Drake and…Brandy? Yep, the former teen idol has created a rapping alter-ego called Bran’ Nu, and she debuts on the song “Meet Me in the Dark”. Somewhat sadly, Moesha probably turns in the best rap performance on the album.
But I digress, my point is that there is a noticeable dearth of r&b and hip-hop artists on this record. Considering that Tim has worked with just about every popular artist in either genre, this fact turns out to be something of a head-scratcher. This album is easily the most pop-centric of his career, and I’ll bet that old collaborators like Missy Elliott, Ginuwine and Magoo are a little peeved that they’ve been traded in for the likes of Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry.
Even Tim’s golden collaborator, Justin Timberlake, can’t save this project. On the inane “Carry Out”, Tim and JT come up with a lame waitress/server lyrical metaphor and throw it over a completely uninspired beat. I should also note that this track highlights Justin’s biggest Achilles heel: his songwriting. Anyone who anoints this guy the best pop/blue-eyed soul singer/songwriter working today either hasn’t listened to a Robin Thicke record or forgets that George Michael had written lyrical gems like “Praying for Time” by the time he was Justin’s age. Speaking of blue-eyed soul, Tim wastes vocals and songwriting efforts on two tracks from Canadian vocalist Esthero, who has released two excellent albums of much better material. While I appreciate Esthero finally getting some mainstream shine, I hope this isn’t an indication of what her future work will sound like.
Is there any reason at all you should own this album? Honestly, nope. I will say that if you are the type of music listener that goes crazy over artists like Akon and the now-era Black Eyed Peas, you’ll probably dig “Shock Value 2”. Similar to records by those singers, there’s plenty of emphasis on shiny, clubby beatmaking and no emphasis on songwriting that goes beyond banal cliche. Actually, I should add that if you dig artists like Akon and the now-era Black Eyed Peas, you should seek professional help, but feel free to put the psychiatric diagnosis on hold and pop in a copy of “Shock Value 2”. I’ll even give you mine.