Timbaland drops a new album on April 3rd but it’s already everywhere on the interwebs.  Bwog music critic Bryan Mochizuki takes a look at the producer’s approach and offers up an early pick for single of the year. 

timbalandLast November, Timbaland told an interviewer, “I changed the sound of radio at least four times.”  This statement is correct, but it’s also highly problematic.  When Timbaland changed the sound of radio the first four times he did so because he wanted to make cool sounding shit (see: Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody”).  But now the inverse seems true – he makes cool shit for the purpose of changing the sound of radio. Read any Timbaland interview in the last year and you’ll find him saying things like “My mission is to take over top-40 radio,” or “Somebody’s gotta break the box, bust it open.”  

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  If Timbaland wants to raise the bar on music across the board, that’s all well and good.  He’s done a flawless job so far – the ingenuity of “My Love” and “Promiscuous” needs no justification. But his quest to try to do something to pop music – as opposed to merely making something great within it – looks to ramp up a few levels with his forthcoming album, Shock Value (video sampler here / audio sampler here). 

This is where things get sticky.  The first dozen or so tracks are exactly what one might expect, if not some more idealized version of it – collaborations with JT, 50 Cent, Nelly Furtado, Missy Elliot, and Timbo’s own stable of artists.  The last five, however, form the collective curveball, as Timbo gets cozy with The Hives, Fall Out Boy, rock-y groups She Wants Revenge and One Republic, and Sir Elton “Your Song” John.

The Elton track hasn’t leaked and won’t, but the rest have and here’s a quick run-down:

– One Republic: “Cry Me A River,” just not as dynamic.

– The Hives: destined for a Jetta commercial. 

– Fall Out Boy: more or less them (with weird noises). 

– She Wants Revenge: post-Interpol version of Jigga & Linkin Park. 

In short, nothing particularly “new”, except perhaps the last one mentioned.  But this track also brings up the big problem with Timbo’s entire mission to herd rock sounds into his pen: it’s already been done…a lot. Ever since Grandmaster Flash and other early dudes were cutting up Rush and the like.  And whatever watershed moment you choose – “Walk This Way,” “Nookie,” the advent of the Gorillaz, etc. – there’s no way around the fact that while Timbaland’s approach may be novel, the turf’s not.  He would probably argue that this new shit isn’t rap-rock or rock-rap or GirlTalk or whatever, but actually some futuristic, space-age amalgam funk.  It’s not. 

You know what is though?  Pretty much everything else he’s doing on this album, a.k.a the stuff that he’s comfortable with.  Timbaland sees his neighbor’s patchy lawn and wants to re-sod, while his own backyard’s freaking Pebble Beach.  If he changes radio a 5th time, it sure as hell won’t be with the Hives.   

“Miscommunication” ft. Keri Hilson and Sebastian 

keriBack to the first dozen songs, where we find 24 year-old Keri Hilson, a singer-songwriter who signed last year with Timbo’s label. Her vibe is somewhere in between Furtado’s spunk, Amerie’s pipes, and the sultry smolder of PCD’s Nicole Scherzinger.  This, listeners, is a great thing.  Furtado’s already an ideal seat-filler for Timbaland’s sonic spaceships, but I’d venture to say that Hilson’s even more apropos because of her versatility and her pure R&B instincts. While this beat is muscular enough to drown a great artist on a good day, she paints the town awesome all over it.  Listen from 0:54 when she takes over the song to 2:49 when she lets it go.  She was born to run on Timbaland beats.    

If Tim wants new spaces to inhabit, “Miscommunication” sounds like a fine starting place, coupled with predecessors like Furtado’s “Maneater” and Timberlake’s “Summer Love.”  Forget producing Fall Out Boy: put the spine of a ‘Stones song into an R&B jam and find singers who are crazy/weird/uninhibited enough to get down with it.  You want next level, Luigi?  That’s what it sounds like.