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POP MUSIC

More like a startle

April 01, 2007|Ann Powers | Times Staff Writer

Timbaland

"Timbaland Presents Shock Value" (Interscope)

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IF a new release ever made the argument for pop abandoning the album format, it's "Timbaland Presents Shock Value." The kingpin producer's fourth name-brand release (three in partnership with rapper Magoo) and the first since hits with Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado made him a household name beyond hip-hop, this hour-plus of familiar innovations is a decent listening experience, but it would have been a really great superhero franchise.

Furtado sets the scene in "Give It to Me," the sweaty, stuttery first single. "I'm a wonder woman, let me go get my rope," she sings in that queen-of-the-corner snarl Timbaland brought out on her career-transforming 2006 album, "Loose." Timbo and Timber then each take a verse, feeding feuds and coolly popping muscles. The chorus unites the singers over a track that recalls a spaceship's blinking control panel. Flip your cape, Timbaland -- we're ready for the ride.

The guest cast on "Shock Value" could easily fill a few seasons of animated adventures. Dr. Dre, who rolls in alongside Missy Elliott for the aptly named "Bounce," could be the Falcon; Fall Out Boy makes a fine Fantastic Four, with Pete Wentz in drag as Storm. 50 Cent, the Incredible Hulk! And hasn't Elton John, who turns in a wicked piano jam, always wanted to play the Joker?

Timbaland's upcoming projects with WWE wrestling and Rockstar Games might fulfill such fantasies; "Shock Value" has other fish to fry. It presents the full spectrum of his sound to his new mainstream fans: icy, skittish beats; sweeping choral arrangements; an affinity for modern rock. "Bombay" breaks out the bhangra to prove his global roots, and "Time," with a vampiric cameo by She Wants Revenge, reveals the goth in his soul.

Other cuts point toward future projects. "Apologize" is a piano ballad that says hello to next month's client, Coldplay, by featuring OneRepublic, a barely known L.A. band with a serious debt to those Brits. Artists signed to Timbaland's Mosley Music Group litter the album, including the appealingly hiccup-prone singer Keri Hilson and rappers Sebastian and D.O.E. The cuts featuring Timbaland's already-famous friends are all Top 40 fodder.

Yet something falls short on "Shock Value." Timbaland's laser-focused sense of what pop should sound like has changed not only hip-hop but vast areas of pop, and it's solidified here in daring beats and masterful arrangements. Yet the narrative pull that justifies the album format falls short.

Timbaland has called "Shock Value" a film-like experience, but there's a big popcorn break between the hot dance music of the first five tracks and the rock experiments of the last five.

In that saggy middle are the album's most conventional moves: sleepy R&B seductions and boring rap boasts. Timbaland's vocal contributions, less than stellar throughout, hit a low here. He's tediously obscene taking down other producers in "Kill Yourself" and creepy coming on to Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger in "Scream." It's sad that an artist of unparalleled sonic creativity keeps pushing this boring baller image.

A master alter ego, Timbaland seems to settle when it comes to his own persona. The fruitful perversity he's uncovered in collaborators -- the humid side of Furtado's femininity, the predator within Timberlake's love man -- has enriched what could have been pop pabulum. As musically rich as "Shock Value" can be, it doesn't offer such powerful insights into its star. Yes, Timbaland, you can scale walls like Spider-Man, but where's the Wolverine within?

ann.powers@latimes.com

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