If you are an artist and you happen to name your album Shock Value, well, then you have to be reasonably confident that your album is not so shockingly bad that its title becomes ironically applicable. If you are an artist and you happen to name your follow-up to the previously mentioned album Shock Value II, well, then you are just dumb. It’s not so shocking anymore if it’s the second in a series, is it? Tell that to Timbaland, who, with every passing year, loses his ability to shock us in both good and bad ways.
Like, say, former bandmate and fellow Virginian Pharrell, Timbaland was so ubiquitous for such a long time that his beats lost their astonishing weirdness. Unlike Pharrell, Timbaland’s ubiquity didn’t always seem like it was going to be a bad thing. Timbaland’s signature–samples from exotic musics (see: the 50s Egyptian track “Khosara” on “Big Pimpin'”), poly-rhythmic shuffle shuffle (see: “Cry Me A River”), manipulation of negative space (see: “Get Ur Freak On”)–was bound to yield more interesting bounty than Pharrell’s somewhat single-minded future fetish.
But, I daresay, I didn’t know the meaning of “phoned in” until I heard Timbo’s recent singles from Shock Value II. It’s as though dude didn’t even have the decency to phone in from a fucking iPhone, but instead used like a 2002 Razr. Not so cutting edge anymore.
Take the single “Carry Out.” JT is on it for good measure, but the song has no trace of melody or memorable hook, therefore he could not save the day. The beat track is a clattering mess of bells, recalling the busy hustle of “Promiscuous,” but lacking the snaky, desire-fueled focus of the latter song’s verses. Furthermore, the song is in identity crisis: it’s a little too slow for the dance floor, but it’s a little too up-tempo to be a sex jam. The song sighs to a start like an old Honda–not loud, not startling, just sorta rusty and tired–then meanders around for a few minutes, a passionless, middling tune that should interest no one.
And I haven’t even gotten to the lyrics. There are more half-baked food/sex analogies in this song than there are in the whole of, say, the books Julie & Julie and Like Water for Chocolate COMBINED. But the food/sex theme isn’t even cohesive; advertising slogans (“have it your way”!!!) mingle with restaurant references (“i’ll keep you open all night like ihop” gross!!!), cooking terminology (“pretty sure you got your own recipe”) is spliced with fast food cliches (“i can tell that way you like, baby, super-size”), making for an overall unsavory song.
Then there’s “Say Something,” the other SVII single. It features Drake, whose practiced, plastic swag and suave-i-tude make him one of the vilest billboard artists out there.
So, unambitious beats, crappy guest artists, recycling of ideas: is Timbo getting ready to exit stage left for a hiatus? He has laid low previously, notably between 2002 and 2006. Or is he just milking this old cow until its teat is totally dried out?
Probably milking the teat. After I started writing this blog post, I heard a Timbo-produced track off The Game’s forthcoming album, called “Krazy.” Blarey guitar and carnivalesque organ make for a dizzying track. The Game seems a little out of place, while Gucci seems typically at home with himself. I keep imagining the three of these dudes hanging out at the county fair playing carnival games; Gucci effortlessly shoots the little race horse each round, winning a new styrofoam-stuffed teddy bear at every attempt, while The Game stares wanly in the background and Timbo stuffs his face with fried concoctions such as elephant ears. In other words, this track is Krazy.
“Krazy” doesn’t contain any of the signatures of Timbaland’s most recent production or artisting work: no lush Euro-techno, no dry-as-bone drums, no layered, stuttering drum track. In fact, it reminds me a good deal of the less listenable songs on the most recent Clipse record–choppy, trebbly guitar riffage that tries really hard to come off as “bad-ass,” and unexpected but annoying instruments buzzing around in circles–all forces combining to make you realize you just need to click forward to the next track. So while “Krazy” is a departure, it’s no revelation.
But the difference is enough to give pause: it’s easy to dismiss Timbo by saying “he’s past his prime.” But what if he’s just gearing up for round-three of his massive career?
All in all, though, Timbo’s narrative should serve as a cautionary tale of overexposure. If you’ve got something good, be measured in your output, don’t burn out for every last dollar. At the end of the day, you will respect yourself, and you’ll make better music. Timbo still might do this yet.