August 18, 2006
Justin Timberlake: SexyBack
Trousersnake’s been lying low, but he’s lost none of his venom
After beating a retreat in the face of the recent rock’n’roll explosion, great pop music is on the march again. The last couple of months have seen brilliant singles from Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera and Nelly Furtado, and here’s another graduate of the class of 2001 proudly bearing the standard. Like Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake is such an all-singing, all-dancing, all-round perfect physical specimen that if the pair of them had babies they’d probably create a new master race. Yet, like everyone bar The Horrors, Justin’s nothing without the songs (as listeners to his erratic debut album ‘Justified’ will have ruefully noted). Fortunately, with ‘SexyBack’ he’s got Timbaland back on board – the writing and production genius behind such landmark records as Missy Elliott’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’, Aaliyah’s ‘Are You That Somebody?’ (recently covered by Gossip) and Justin’s own ‘Cry Me A River’. ‘SexyBack’ rides along on a two-note dirty electro riff, a sample of a man enthusiastically shouting “yeah!” and not much else, while Justin’s half-spoken drawl is roughed up by distortion. Yet, despite the absence of a whistle-worthy chorus (or, some would reasonably say, any tune at all), ‘SexyBack’ really works. In fact, its lack of bassline actually creates a teasing air of tension in the song, while the rough and ready quality is perhaps more DFA 1979 than ’N Sync. Though the video is a poor ‘Justify My Love’ rip-off and the lyrics innovatively rhyme ‘back’ with, er, ‘back’, this is a good enough song for us not to splutter when Mr Timberlake describes it as “David Bowie and David Byrne deciding to do a cover of James Brown’s ‘Sex Machine’”.
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