To say that Timbaland had a successful year in 2006 would be an understatement. Simply put, he dominated the airwaves. As the architect of Nelly Furtado’s Loose and Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, he produced hit after hit with his proven Midas touch. Considering Furtado and Timberlake’s diverse musical backgrounds, Tim’s versatility was obvious even before he declared to MTV, “I’m not a hip-hop producer. I’m a producer.”

Sarah Royce
Wow. (Courtesy of Interscope)

This brings us to the entirely appropriate title of his second solo album, Shock Value. It dictates the album’s every gesture, with each production choice intended to turn heads and challenge straightforward genre classifications. As one of the preeminent producers of our time, Timbaland has little difficulty finding artists to work with.Here he recruits an eclectic range of contributors, including Elton John, Fall Out Boy and 50 Cent.

Like Kanye West, another beat-maker-turned-rapper, Tim is an adequate MC, but it’s behind the mixing boards that he truly excels. “Give It To Me,” the single featuring Furtado and Timberlake, revolves around his signature stutters accompanied by bubbling synths, tribal drumming and an endlessly twisting melody. To attempt to expound fully on its subtleties is almost a disservice. The track is the epitome of shock value, sounding unlike anything else – at once experimental, avant-garde and entirely danceable.

Yet for an album based on the principle of experimentation, there’s a surprising amount of unoriginality. Album opener “Oh Timbaland” sounds remarkably like Talib Kweli’s “Get By” until Timbaland adds his stylistic flourishes and allows the song to fully develop. “Scream,” an otherwise fantastic song featuring Pussycat Dolls frontwoman Nicole Scherzinger, recalls the warm, sultry production of Furtado’s “Say It Right.”

On their own these recycled sounds do no harm, but ultimately, they’re antithetical to the album’s ruling aesthetic of experimentation.

That’s not to say that Timbaland sticks to what he knows best – among other uncharted areas, Timbaland ventures into rock. Unfortunately, all the “rock” songs are crammed into the second half of the album; as a result, the album is unsure of what it wants to be. Dispersing the rock tracks among the hip-hop tracks would have better suited the album’s titular aesthetic.

Moreover, the album’s rock songs are hit-or-miss. “Throw It On Me,” a collaboration with garage punk-rock band The Hives, is a disaster – too wild and frenetic for even Timbo to handle. Conversely, in “Time,” with the alternative rock band She Wants Revenge, the producer takes on the realm of sentimentality. Here the merger of hip hop and rock succeeds spectacularly, as the song’s profundity will resonate with listeners more than Timbaland’s other attempts at pathos.

From the tempestuous slow-burn of “Miscommunication” to the noxious lust of “Bounce,” the album’s production is generally top notch. Timbo smartly hides the labyrinthine complexities of his beats – rather than highlighting the dense layers of instrumentation, he simply lets the beat ride. It’s an incredible feat of modesty, considering he’s established himself as arguably the best producer in the game.

Maybe what’s most “shocking” about the album is that it ultimately offers no surprises. We all know Timbaland is a great beat-maker, and Shock Value only legitimizes the claim. If some of the songs underwhelm, it’s only because they stand in Tim’s stately shadow.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Shock Value

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