Production lines

Timbaland’s shockingly bad Shock Value
By NICK SYLVESTER  |  April 9, 2007

MAGIC FORMULA: What else is there to hear in “Why I Are” besides a rich man telling poor people it’s okay to be poor?

Let’s not forget that megaproducer Timbaland takes his name from a brand of construction boots. The guy builds songs. Ten massive 2006 pop tracks — including Hot 100 toppers Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous Girl” and Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” and “My Love” — he can claim responsibility for, to say nothing of a decade’s worth of radio-altering Number One Song productions for everyone from Missy Elliott to Jay-Z to Aaliyah. Just as Miles Davis reminded jazz that leaving the right notes out was as important as putting the right ones in, Timbaland’s sense of space in hip-hop smacked the breakcentric genre upside the head. He popped snares, exploded bottoms, and left a universe between the two frequencies, working in the polyrhythms and tug-and-pull and melodic structures and instrumentation of Eastern and East Asian musical traditions without seeming gimmicky. Timbaland makes a perfectly fine hip-hop producer like his nemesis Scott Storch sound like “just a piano man,” so much do Tim’s songs arrive, bristling with an energy that demands so much more from the artist than a paycheck. He’s unafraid of the past and unafraid of melody — both major hang-ups for present-day minimalist producers. He knows that there is no lost chord, that all Number One Songs are made up of bits and pieces of other Number One Songs. He’s exacting and precise, extremely aware of how, what, and why good pop music works, and as far as I can tell he’s not going anywhere — his sound banks maybe, but his truly modern approach never.

And now, somehow, I have to explain to you why Timbaland’s new Shock Value (Interscope) — an album that proceeds pretty near as described above — is truly awful, maybe even vile. I have to explain how this sleek-sounding, hour-long, star-studded folder of leaked MP3s has reawakened all my deepest insecurities about this business of pop music and writing about it. I have to explain how a guy who has his magic formulas, who has birthed some of this decade’s most transfixing stretches of sound, has made an album not of magically formulated songs but of magic formulas. How that strikes me as contempt for both his art (i.e., music) and his audience (i.e., yours truly). How there’s a difference between pop music in 2007 and “the sound of pop music in 2007.” And how Shock Value is squarely the latter.

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Related:, Cutting Loose, On the racks, More more >
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