Since emerging as the major contributor on Aaliyah’s 1996 sophomore album, One in a Million, Timbaland has changed the face of modern music. He’s almost single-handedly pushed hip-hop and R&B away from the gritty early-’90s sound into the new millennium, where cleanly produced electro-leaning spectacles have become the norm. Since those early days, the producer has created astounding sonic landscapes for artists including Missy Elliott, Brandy, Tweet, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg. He dominated the popular lexicon in 2006 with his work on Justin Timberlake’s and Nelly Furtado’s projects, continuing to inject much-needed musical experimentation into pop music. Shock Value, his second solo release, comes fresh off that career high. The album delivers some heady thrills, but it’s far from the home run we would expect from Timbaland.
The level of talent on display here is astounding: Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Nicole Scherzinger, Fall Out Boy and the Hives all lend their support, with varying degrees of success. Of course, the main focus is the beats, and for the most part the album doesn’t disappoint. An ’80s flair — dark electro synths, echoing vocals and tinkling percussion — permeates the project. The best tracks find Timbaland allowing his talented friends to take the lead vocally; lead single “Give It to Me,” featuring Timberlake and Furtado, is the most obvious example of this. The track works because of the potent combination of Timbaland’s fluttering groove and Furtado’s and Timberlake’s boastful verses.
Just as memorable is “Bounce,” a dark, bass-heavy track that finds Timberlake proposing a mï¿½nage a trios, Dr. Dre rapping about panty anthems, and Missy Elliott screaming “Hold up. Hell no. Like Britney Spears, I wear no drawers.” Most of the successful tracks are of the R&B/dance variety, such as the “Sexy Back”-flavored “The Way I Are” and “Release.” Halfway through, Timbaland gets his sexy groove on with winners “Scream” and “Miscommunication,” both of which feature Keri Hilson, a newcomer who seems to naturally fit into Tim’s elaborate symphonies. The more hip-hop-oriented tracks aren’t as interesting; “Kill Yourself” is noteworthy for its eerie sampling of the first Resident Evil film, but “Come and Get Me” sounds like every other 50 Cent track.
It’s when an adventurous Timbaland works with various rock and pop artists such as the Hives and Fall Out Boy that the album loses steam. Those songs come across as blatant attempts at rock success and less like an organic fusing of Timbaland’s futurism and said bands’ alt-rock sensibilities. One exception is the piano funk of “Apologize,” featuring One Republic, which seems to reference Phil Collins and Coldplay in one revolutionary package.
Shock Value isn’t a perfect album, but it does possess various charms. Timbaland is still one of the most prolific producers ever, and more than a decade after his debut, he continues not only to dominate but also to innovate popular music.