Justin Timberlake - FUTURESEX/LOVE (LP)

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Music critics and highbrow listeners may look down their nose at Justin Timberlake, doubting that the celebrated former N'Sync leader is good for more than light, frothy dance-pop. Timberlakes's sophomore effort, FUTURESEX/LOVESOUNDS, should make both camps rethink that stance. While the album certainly sets out to entertain, it's also full of ambitious, well-constructed grooves that prove the superstar is serious about getting down and dirty. The album steps up the Michael Jackson-influenced sound of JUSTIFIED by delving deeper into club music, hip-hop, and funk, creating a bumping, writhing soundtrack for a set of songs unabashedly about sex. Timberlake spared no expense recruiting some of the best producers on the scene. Beatmaker extraordinaire Timbaland is a primary collaborator, and his experimental stutter-funk landscapes make for the album's best moments (the title track, for example, or the spare, driving lead-off single "Sexyback"). Early Prince is a major touchstone for much of the disc, but Timberlake also draws on rolling, Dirty South jams ("Chop Me Up") and smooth, urban-contemporary loverman R&B ("My Love"). Its obsession with the bedroom notwithstanding, FUTURESEX/LOVESOUNDS shows Timberlake moving toward an exciting musical maturity.