Shock Value

(Interscope; 2007)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

For CMG's 2006 year-end barrage I wrote an article about how Timbaland is a subversive mainstream genius and how he owned 2006 and how much I love him, despite (and sometimes because of) his "corny motherfucker" status awarded by the Glow's own Aaron Newell. I think I called him Phil Spector for the hip-pop generation. Now Timbaland's motherfucking corny Shock Value is out and while I know that Timbaland never read my article I can't help but feel like this epochal shitstorm serves no other purpose than to make me look the fool. Because that's about the only thing that Shock Value does well.

It seems that, topically, Shock Value amounts to a self-conscious stab at having, uh, shock value. Like, whoa, Timbaland and Elton John do a track together! Way back in '06 I believed somehow someway that Tim's stupendous production talent could turn such a bad collab idea into sonic gold. Now, in 2007, I hear the reality. Tim mistakenly reveres Elton as pop's best living key-man, and this album's closing track finds Tim embossing some rote tavern-playing by Elton with strings swells, a choir, and a canned drum line. Then Tim tries to sing a line like Elton: "Don't it sound good to you, don't you agree?" No, I don't agree, but keep asking me what I think.

Timbaland's always been a populist so it's not shocking that there's a three-track stretch here sod with a crap-rock enthusiast's dream team line-up: the obnoxious Hives, the abominable She Wants Revenge, and the mutton-chopped Fall Out Boy. Even less shocking is the fact that each one of these tracks is a special kind of bust, the sound of a visionary trying to conform to the imagined "strengths" of his featured guests. So the sped-up guitar riff of "Throw It On Me" (the Hives) sounds like a surefire soundtrack selection for whatever movie McG's working on right now; "Time" (She Wants Revenge) will dourly ask you to fetal it up in a bathtub; and when "One & Only" (Fall Out Boy) spazz-croons at you to wipe "that smile off your fucking face," you'll just keep smiling at Fallout Boy's nerd-bounce, at least until the roughneck last minute or so finds a way to crush even your smirking joy. I don't know who One Republic is, but the mediocrity of "Apologize" is relieving after the triumvirate of shit that precedes it.

I've flash-forwarded to the record's bottom, the putrid, corpse-strewn floor at the center of the hour-wide spiral. But it's only a few feet down from the top, where Timbaland grins and folds his arms at himself; "Oh Timbaland" is "Get By" miniaturized into speedy Moby and here's the formula: Tim brags Ç you have to listen to Tim rap = so you hate this album already. First single and only thing resembling a highlight "Give It To Me" rides a couple hot synth lines and a concussive drum track for all they're worth; Nelly Furtado's opening verse and hook commit the song to memory but Timbaland's vocal turn is simultaneously robotic and cheesy, confining itself to the exact pattern coming out of his Korg. Timberlake fares better because his voice isn't the cartoon + crime that Tim's is; this is ultimately why "Sexy Back" (Justin Timberlake feat. Timbaland) is better than "Release" (Timbaland feat. Justin Timberlake). Even though they are very much the same fucking (bad) song.

I think congratulations are in order for Scott Storch to whom Tim's just handed a whole album's worth of priceless diss fodder. "Kill Yourself" (title by She Wants Revenge?) is likely directed at Storch; knowingly sounding like a weak Storch production is the only rationalization I can think of for the tinkling pseudo-classical piano and wafer drum patch. What's amazing about this track is that, for once, Attitude (who's making a career out of rapping like other rappers: Bubba Sparxxx and Paul Wall successfully and, uh, Big Boi, miserably) gets the chance to outshine somebody. That somebody is, of course, Timbaland, who reduces his own accomplished work to making "the beats that go boom-boom-boom in the trunks." The song's loathing is so poorly thrown it falls back in the face of its sender.

The ineptitude's born of incontinence. Shock Value tries everything, hoping something will stick: second-rate Loose (2006) rips in "Way I Are" and "Scream," G-Unit glorification with Fiddy and Tony Yayo on "Come & Get Me," the nasty, Missy-laden "Bounce" grind that probably would've worked well enough if Timberlake weren't such a ridiculous choice for the hook. Yeah, you read right, Tony Yayo, but that's nothing: "Boardmeeting" does the absolutely uncalled for and brings back Magoo. "Timbaland Presents," indeed. Tim's remarkably adept at defining an exciting pop sound for a pop artist like Aaliyah, or an exciting rap sound for a rap artist like Missy, or re-defining the sounds of kids who just want to be cool like Furtado and Timberlake. When it comes to himself, though, I don't think Timbaland has the slightest clue what kind of artist he wants to or even can be in a solo scenario, and so he "presents" an album wherein he tries to define his sound by stretching it thin over a schizophrenic smorgasboard of faceless artists like Attitude, Keri Hilson, and Money -- or artists who Tim's already figured into his aesthetic like Justin, Nelly, and Missy. Then a few like Fallout Boy and Elton John just for the WTF, for the merit-less "shock value." It's no accident that "Bombay" with what's-her-face replaced the M.I.A. track -- Arulpragasam's a lot of genuine personality to handle.

Shock Value, then, is a long collection of awful ideas and recycled ideas in the absence of an Idea (or at least a strong self-concept). It's destined to stuff bargain bins across America to overflowing. And Timbaland is destined to redeem himself as soon as he goes back to helping other artists figure out what they want to sound like instead of what he wants to sound like. Because I think both he and I know that he don't sound too good. Now excuse me while I proceed to repress the shit out of this turd.