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Danger! Low Voltage!

July 14, 2010

Image from Amazon

On paper this seems like a bad idea. One of the most important pop music producers of the past 12-20 years teaming up with like Katy Perry and that guy from Nickelback. No wonder it’s called Shock Value II. Timbaland wants to show off the artists he can pull for collaborations, the variety of the beats he can make, and his versatility as a singer, rapper, and producer. The man has an ego. I mean, the lead single off of the first Shock Value was a four-minute, all-star diss track on rival producer Scott Storch. Then again, an ego is legit if the results back it up….

Full review after the jump….

Like any producer putting out an artist album, Timbaland must perform the balancing act between his beats and his collaborators. Every producer in his situation must decide how much of the signature style to bend to the guest. Tim is fortunate because his “signature style” allows for a bit of wiggle room. He’s made some progression from the eastern-influenced samples on “Get Ur Freak On,” to the rave-inspired synths on “The Way I Are,” to the marching band beats on “4 Minutes,” so he can switch the style up and still sound like himself.

The big surprise on this album for the pop connoisseur is that some of the collaborations come out much better than expected. For “Tomorrow In A Bottle” features Nickelback singer Chad Kroeger. Now, Timmy could have merely thrown some beats under “Rock Star,” but he forces Kroeger to fit into his pop-hop paradigm and Kroeger’s game for it. He sings like a grunge crooner. When I hear the song, I picture the four guys in Nickelback doing the dance to “It’s Gonna Be Me” (and I mean this as a good thing).

Similarly, I was a little apprehensive going into “We Belong To The Music,” Tim’s collaboration with pop sensation Miley Cyrus. I think the apprehension I feel towards Miley is that she may be the first teen pop star whose rise to fame I witnessed as a working adult. When her forebears Britney Spears and Hilary Duff got popular, I was a student in high school or college, so perhaps I still felt a connection to their youth. Meanwhile Miley will always be “kids music” to me and as she moves into mainstream pop I’ll have to work to overcome my gut reactions. That being said, on the song, she and Timbaland achieve success by Tim hanging back and letting Cyrus do her thing. The music is a synthed-up jaunty boot-scoot boogie that with different instruments would make a great country song. Cyrus’s twangy vocal performance is sweet and sincere, defiantly proclaiming the party in the wake of adversity like she’s Andrew W.K.

However, nobody’s perfect. When Timbo teams up with Katy Perry on “If We Ever Meet Again,” things get ugly, and it isn’t Perry’s fault. Timbaland tries to make a shout-along dance rock anthem like he’s Will.I.Am, but the BEPs are much better singers, no matter how much vocal processing he throws at the wall. Katy’s signature growl has been enhanced in the past by Auto Tune, but Tim’s signature bass of a voice just doesn’t sound good with certain chord progressions. This is not a guy you would want to hear singing “Don’t Stop Believing” (or “I Got A Feeling”) at karaoke night. Timbaland also goes overboard with the vocal effects on “Morning After Dark,” where his attempt to sing vocoded along with a perfectly solid rave-up has him coming across like some cartoon ghost.

A few other tracks are just bland. I’ve found past radio hits by JoJo and Drake to be very slow and sleepy (then again I’m not their target audience). Timbaland tries to match his music to the saccharine R&B of JoJo on “Lose Control” and the cold, dirge-hop of Drake on “Say Something,” and the results are workmanlike at best and frustratingly boring at worst.

Really though, Timbaland seems most comfortable with his proven partners. Cartoon ghost aside, “Morning After Dark,” pairs him up with Nelly Furtado, who brings her dance diva A-game atop the backing track that’s like a pumped-up version of Justin Timberlake’s “My Love.” Speaking of JT, he shines on “Carry Out,” the album’s leadoff track. Timbaland drops this simple, old school beat with incredibly tight drumming, and vocally he and Timberlake take the fast food/sex gimmick and kick it into the stratosphere of ridiculousness. I love it! I just wish Missy Elliott was on this record. She and Timmy made such beautiful music together.

The sheer variety of production styles and collaborators on Shock Value II makes it a difficult proposition to sell as a whole, despite the connecting threads of Mr. Mosley’s musical talents. On the flipside, there really is something for everyone (or at least everyone who is fairly open-minded about their pop music). There are some neat surprises, but I would recommend either buying the 4-5 individual songs you’re actually interested in, or waiting until this record shows up in the bargain bin.  Buy it, but don’t pay full price.

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