The recent success of Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley has been one of the more interesting occurrences in the pop music scene of the last few years. His most obvious success stories have been Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, two artists whose albums are so indebted to his production touch that it’s almost surprising that he didn’t get a “featuring” credit on either; the odd pop hits and collaborations with artists like The Pussycat Dolls, Snoop Dogg and (what the hell) Raven Symone were just gravy. The thing is, even though he’s technically not the primary artist on these songs, he puts enough of himself in these songs via a now-signature beatmaking style and charismatic vocal ad-libs (even taking on entire verses in some of his songs) that they become Timbaland songs as much as or sometimes even more than they are, say, Nelly Furtado songs.
Given his none-too-subtle move to the spotlight, it only makes sense that the man who calls himself Thomas Crown would step into the stoplight for a starring role on an album of his own for the first time since 1998’s Tim’s Bio: Life from da Bassment, which hardly counts anyway. Despite a roster of guests that ranges from fellow producer/rapper Dr. Dre to Fall Out Boy, it sounds pretty much like you would expect; whether this is indicative of his genius or a betrayal of his shortcomings is largely a matter of personal taste.
One thing becomes immediately obvious: This is not an album to be listened to for the lyrics. Largely banal, self-aggrandizing, or downright stupid, a Timbaland production generally has the unfortunate effect of bringing out the worst in its vocalists’ choice of lyrics, an attribute just as applicable to Tim himself as any of the rest of the small army of vocalists on Shock Value. Still, the sneaking suspicion exists that to judge a Timbaland album on lyrics is to miss the point entirely — this is about the sound, about the beats, about the club and the bedroom and where the two meet — the words only exist as another sound in an expertly-programmed mix.
As such, on the beatmaking front, Shock Value is often wildly successful. A glimpse at the best of the batch can be seen in first single “Give It to Me”, which is basically a combination of every single beat on the Nelly Furtado album, lending well to the theory that this may at some point have been intended for that disc. Add Timbaland and Timberlake on vocals, however, and it’s an all-star romp of toothless beefs and bump ‘n’ grind that manages to wiggle its way into the permanent consciousness of the unsuspecting listener after one or two listens. As long as he’s recycling production techniques, he goes ahead and cops the “My Love” synth sound from Timberlake’s disc for a more straightforward club banger called “The Way I Are” with J-Lo soundalike Keri Hilson, resulting in another track that doesn’t lend itself well to critical analysis thanks again to its blatant revisiting of recently-released Timbanoise, but damn if it isn’t catchy.
Over the course of the album, he also manages to sit Hives screamer Pelle Almqvist in the backseat as another killer beat steals the spotlight, he effectively evokes the atmosphere of the Far East via “Bombay”, and actually makes a persuasive case that with some decent programming, a little charisma, and maybe a little less mascara, She Wants Revenge might actually be worth your time. Perhaps most impressive of all, he (along with a hilariously obscene verse from Missy Elliot) actually makes a ridiculous-bordering-on-satirical song called “Bounce” that features Timberlake spouting off a chorus of “Bounce, like your ass had the hiccups / Bounce, like you was ridin’ in my pickup” listenable via production that sounds as though it was borrowed from Trent Reznor, all distorted synths, low rumbles, and vague dread.
Regrettably, there are tracks where Mr. Mosley is too obviously not even trying. “Come and Get Me” sounds as though Tim found “Generic_Hip_Hop_Beat_037.wav” (last modified in 2003) on his laptop and told 50 Cent and Yayo to try their best (by the sound of it, they try about as hard as Tim). “Boardmeeting”, where he lets longtime collaborator Magoo in for eight bars of nothing, just sort of happens without making any sort of impression whatsoever. And let’s face it, there’s no good reason he should be letting Fall Out Boy show him up on a song on his own album.
The cumulative effect, by the time you get to the meandering, gospel-choir-and-Elton-John-infused “2 Man Show”, is one of confusion, really — a few tracks on Shock Value are exactly what you’d expect and hope for from someone with Timbaland’s recent track record, a few are straight-up awful, and most get your head nodding well enough as long as you’re prepared to turn off your brain. The thing is, one gets the impression that Timbaland is a smart guy. Even he probably knows when he’s putting out a beat that sounds like he pushed the “autopilot” button. If he really wanted to “shock” us, he’d have left those particular beats off the disc (big name guest stars be damned) and blown us away for ten or eleven songs, a short, sweet statement of lightning in a bottle. Instead, Shock Value turns out to be a decidedly un-shocking, but still above average pop album, which is fine, but certainly less than the masterpiece that Timothy Mosley is surely capable of.