Nothing's Shocking

Open the CD booklet to Timbaland’s new Shock Value CD, and there’s a close-up shot of the man himself, looking very much like Quincy Jones. That makes sense, as Jones’ assorted all-star albums (Back on the Block, The Dude, Q’s Jook Joint) provide the template for this attempt at hip-hop-based genre fusion. But the only thing that’s shocking here is how shrug-inducing a BlackBerry full of famous names and an obviously lavish budget can sound. Shock was supposed to be the icing on Tim’s career cake, the capping of a lucrative and high-profile 2006, in which his multiplatinum knob twirling for Nelly Furtado (Loose) and Justin Timberlake (FutureSex/LoveSounds) gave him the mainstream recognition that’s long been his due.

The best things on the CD are Tim revisiting shit he’s done before and dusting it off with newer technology. The worst things on the album are Tim revisiting shit he’s done before and dusting it off with newer technology. Tim’s longtime collaborator Missy Elliott shows up, as does Tim’s former protégé Magoo, and the true singularity of their voices and deliveries — full of the kind of eccentricity that Tim himself woefully lacks — only underscores how familiar the overall production itself is. Yes, it’s meticulously detailed, tailored to kick your ass out onto the dance floor and hold you there. But you feel like you’ve heard it all before.

Sometimes, that’s a good thing: Shock flaunts Tim’s flair for blatant Prince-jacking (which he took to new heights on his work for Timberlake) and the Bollywood sounds that had him so enthralled a few creative cycles back. “Release,” featuring Timberlake’s vocals beneath grungy effects, sounds like an outtake from the FutureSex/LoveSounds sessions, but its murky, cowbell-driven disco works. The lyrics to “Fantasy,” featuring the vocals of Tim’s newest artist, Money, are typical wack contemporary R&B fare: wanly salacious and void of poetry. Redemption lies in the sound of the track, though, with multilayered, computer-tweaked vocals coming through your speakers from all angles: It’s the sound of Prince before he traded stiletto boots and trench coats for Jehovah. The huffing choir that opens “Bombay” gives way to bhangra beats and a seductive lead performance by Indian singer Amar. It’d be a stellar track if Tim hadn’t splattered it with his intrusively barked celebrations of himself.

And that’s the big problem with the CD. Far too much time is spent on Tim lyrically shadowboxing haters (specifically, producer Scott Storch, who goes unnamed but is easily identified by the clues dropped) and letting the world know that he’s a VIP who hangs with other VIPs in very, very VIP places. It almost feels foolish to call out the lyrics on a Timbaland album. He’s known for his groundbreaking sonics, not for the depth of his words. But his swollen ego bleeds all over the place and continually stops the party he’s trying to get started. On “Give It to Me,” he even pulls Furtado and Timberlake into his verbal boxing ring, with Timberlake taking swipes at Prince and/or Janet with the lines “Sitting on the top, it’s hard to hear you from way up here/I saw you tryin’ to act cute on TV, just let me clear the air/We missed you on the charts last week/Damn, that’s right, you wasn’t there/If ‘sexy’ never left, then why’s everybody on my shit?/Don’t hate on me just because you didn’t come up with it . . .” It’s like listening in on a Mean Girls bitch session.

The much-ballyhooed collaborations with the Hives, She Wants Revenge and Fallout Boy once again make you curse Run-DMC and Aerosmith for unleashing the bastard children of rock & rap unions. (These strainingly offbeat hookups also diminish anticipation for Timbaland’s upcoming collaborations with Björk and Madonna.) It’s all hard guitars over hard beats and lots of rock-boy posturing meets generic hip-hop bravado. It’s dick wagging from folks whose dicks you have no desire to see. More importantly, it’s Timbaland being self-consciously on some next-level tip — you can feel his smug self-satisfaction from every groove — when in truth the bulk of what he’s created here is already dated and played out.

TIMBALAND | Shock Value | Blackground Records/Interscope Records

Timbaland – Give It To Me (feat. J. Timberlake & N. Furtado)

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