Man in the Mirror

Justin Timberlake might see himself as the next Michael Jackson, but is he closer to being the next Daryl Hall?

Timberlake's lyrics are a general problem, serviceably seductive, devotional, or heartbroken at best, shopworn most of the time, seriously stupid at worst. Nate Hills told Rolling Stone that Timberlake improvised many of the album's lyrics right there in front of the microphone. Hills offered this inside dope as further proof of the singer's genius, though it might have made more sense to present it as an apology. The lyrics are certainly underdeveloped, though alas they don't bear the loopiness that often attends extemporaneous rhyming. "Losing My Way," the album's anti-drug saga, begins with the line, "Hi, my name is Bob and I work at my job," apparently deemed more engrossing and vivid than "Hi, my name is Pete, and I walk on two feet." Later in the same song Timberlake sings, "I remember where I was when I got my first buzz," but doesn't bother to name the place, presumably because he didn't work that part out.

We've been together for such a long time, and I want to give her something special so she knows what's on my mind—but what?
Lalo Yasky
We've been together for such a long time, and I want to give her something special so she knows what's on my mind—but what?

No doubt I'm asking too much of Timberlake. I should be content with his music's canyon-like tonal range—from Timbaland's bass lines and pulses, lower than the proverbial snake's belly in a wagon-wheel rut, to Timberlake's skyscraper high notes—and not look for consistent emotional or conceptual depth to match. And maybe I'm letting Timberlake's good taste lead me to unreasonable comparisons. The difference between Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake is the difference between genius and talent, between studying Jackie Wilson backstage and waiting to sing "When a Man Loves a Woman" for Mouseketeer scouts, between having a preternatural command of the African American vocal tradition and having a good shot at matching Daryl Hall in the blue-eyed soul pantheon. But I'm a crazy loyalist who thinks Invincible, Jackson's 2001 album, is pretty good, and I don't want to get all Lloyd Bentsen on JT. Every decade deserves its Daryl Hall, and Timbaland is a much better Oates.

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