Album Reviews

Justin Timberlake – Everything I Thought It Was

(RCA) UK release date: 15 March 2024

Is it time for the erstwhile Trousersnake to explore rebooting his acting career?

Justin Timberlake - Everything I Thought It Was It only seems like five minutes ago that Justin Timberlake was crowned the new King of Pop. Fresh from boy-band success with NSYNC, he was responsible for some of the best pop songs of the early years of the decade – tracks such as Cry Me A River, SexyBack, Mirrors and especially Like I Love You all still hold up today as prime examples of superior pop tunes.

And then, it all went wrong. It’s tricky to pin down exactly when Timberlake’s stock seemed to fall, but the bloated Man Of The Woods album, where Timberlake seemed to want to turn into a RnB inspired version of Bon Iver, didn’t help. Nor did the release of his ex-fiancée Britney Spears‘ autobiography last year, which cast him in a less than flattering light as a cheating, try-hard, rather toxic presence in her life (Michelle Williams’ impression of Timberlake yelling “fo’shizz” at Ginuwine in the audio reading of Spears’ book was a genuine highlight of 2023).

Six years after Man Of The Woods was released, Everything I Thought I Knew seems like an attempt to reset Timberlake’s career. It’s another long album – if there’s one conclusion to be drawn from this record, it’s that Justin Timberlake desperately needs an editor – but it’s a return to the slinky RnB pop that made his name.

The problem is that there’s not much of the sparkle that was evident about 20 years ago. Memphis is a very odd choice to open the album, a torturously slow jam with Timberlake’s voice drenched in Auto-Tune, and featuring a rap that may well make you cringe so hard you could need surgery to correct your posture afterwards. Unless, of course, you’ve always wanted to hear Justin rapping about “too much kitten and ass and titties”, in which case, knock yourself out.

Fuckin’ Up The Disco is at least a bit of a party anthem, but is stymied by an introductory sample of “I’ve got this great new JT album and if you’ve got a turntable, maybe we could get it on” – if you can stop your eyes rolling at this point, then the song itself (a Calvin Harris co-write) is fun and frothy, but unlikely to stand too high in the Timberlake canon.

Part of the problem is that, what may seem cute and cheeky in your early ’20s comes across as borderline predatory when you’re in middle age. So the sound of a 43-year-old Timberlake breathily begging “Now, I’m gonna give you something to play with, go on and play with it, play with it” just sounds incredibly creepy. Infinity Sex does at least have a pretty good disco groove, but you still have to put up with lyrics like “as soon as your clothes hit the hotel floor, pray this hotel room is insured”, and a charming bridge of “Bitch, I wanna love you for eternity”.

There’s probably a decent 40-minutes-or-so album hiding in Everything I Thought I Knew. Tracks like Selfish, Drown and especially the cowbell-embroidered My Favourite Drug (which references the ‘everyone dance’ moment on Like I Love You) all hark back to the Timberlake of old. But nobody needs the seven minute long dirge of Technicolor, or sub-Coldplay plodders like Paradise (which also acts on this record as an NSYNC reunion, with his old bandmates all featuring) or the overblown Sanctified, which really does feature the line “a million ways for you to heal the monster that has been postured in my loins – boing”. 

It’s unlikely that Everything I Thought It Was will propel Timberlake back to being one of the world’s biggest popstars. In fact, on this evidence, it may be best for him to start exploring his acting career again, for this is most definitely not bringing sexy anywhere near back.

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