I often forget that Justin Timberlake’s career started in N*Sync, the immensely popular boy band from the ‘90s. This isn’t because their music is terrible (we all listened to them at some point, even if involuntarily), it’s simply because Timberlake has accomplished so much since then, one would think he always was a solo artist who inexplicably hit it big. Still, his solo debut – simply titled Justified – is still, if even slightly, an N*Sync album without the rest of the group. Sure, the diversity is there, but you can tell Timberlake was desperately trying to escape the massive shadow the group left behind when they broke up in 2002. And honestly, his debut suffers slightly from this, but it’s still such a fun and inevitably gutsy album that will still please diehard fans even after all these years.
“Senorita,” the Spanish-themed opener, is an interesting start to the album, and while it’s a catchy and safe radio-friendly track, it suffers from some poor lyrics. “Like I Love You” benefits from a truly impressive vocal display from Timberlake, not to mention an awesome standout guest rap verse from hip-hop duo Clipse. “Take It From Here” sounds like an R&B song straight out of the ‘90s, and the result is one of the most solid tracks on the album, even if its six-minute runtime is a little overwhelming. From a steady and groovy bass line to a refined but powerful performance from Timberlake, “From Here” is an early indication that there’s more to the artist than dance moves and cookie-cutter pop songs.
“Cry Me a River,” which is arguably one of Timberlake’s most popular songs ever released, has aged incredibly well, still packing an emotional punch as well as being a perfect dance song. Timbaland, frequent Timberlake producer, really put his trademark touch into the production of the track, featuring a wide variety of instruments from a clavinet to Gregorian chants. “Rock Your Body,” another highly popular track, is strictly a dance song with silly lyrics and an infectious chorus that will have all but deaf people out on the dance floor, even after all these years. “(And She Said) Take Me Now” is another track plagued by bad lyrics, but benefits from the legendary Janet Jackson (still can’t not think of that Super Bowl incident every time I hear the song though), even if her appearance is alarmingly brief.
When it comes down to it, Justified is Justin Timberlake’s weakest solo effort, where he focuses too much on sexualizing his music as opposed to creating intelligent dance songs (like he displayed later on the incredible FutureSex/LoveSounds). Still, this album will force its way under your skin and infect you with its catchiness, spunk, and eclectic genre twisting. Justified is energetic and soulful, even if it doesn’t contain much of a soul itself. It’s just fun dance music from a younger Timberlake who was still trying to find his sound, and that journey in itself is worth taking.