CD reviews: Timbaland, 30 Seconds to MarsBy Ricardo Baca | December 23rd, 2009 | 2 comments
Timbaland, “Shock Value II” (Interscope)
For more than a decade, Timbaland has given the kids something to dance to. The mega-producer broke out via his genre-busting work with Missy Elliott in the late-’90s, but he’s gone on to work with many of the biggest names in the game. It’s fair to say that Timbaland is as responsible for Justin Timberlake’s success as J.T. himself.
The excessive “Shock Value II” comes two years after the platinum-selling original, which spawned hits with the help of Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, Keri Hilson, D.O.E. and Colorado-based OneRepublic. This sequel is just as ambitious as the original, as the featured artists include Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, Furtado and another Colorado band, the Fray. But whereas the first hit like a fresh blast of pop music, the sequel is a hit-or-miss affair that thrives only on Tim’s connection to female sensuality.
A cursory listen to “Shock Value II” will make its creator’s limitations obvious. Many of these songs recall the glitchy, infectious production of his “The Way I Are” or “Promiscuous,” but some of them are just different enough to make for quality listens. Tim works well with the ladies, and so his Cyrus collab, “We Belong to the Music,” is a skippy, dance-pop confection. “If We Ever Meet Again” has Tim playing off Katy Perry — not unlike a will.i.am/Fergie duet from the recent Black Eyed Peas catalog.
The more unique pairings aren’t as artistically sound, though “Tomorrow in the Bottle,” with Kroeger and Sebastian, makes for an interesting experience, not unlike Tim’s work on Chris Cornell’s last record. The piano ballad “Undertow” — with the Fray and, oddly, pop diva Esthero — doesn’t overcome the jolt of the piano pop/vocoder collision. – Ricardo Baca
30 Seconds to Mars, “This Is War” (EMI)
With most pop music, it’s essential to look at the names behind the songs.
With melodic pop-rock act 30 Seconds to Mars, 11 of the 12 songs on the new record, “This is War,” were written by famous frontman Jared Leto. The songs were produced by rock heavyweights Flood and Steve Lillywhite, both of whom have history with U2 and have worked individually with a number of other artists including Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Dave Matthews Band.
By hiring both Flood and Lillywhite, Leto and his band — brother/drummer Shannon Leto and guitarist Tomo Milicevic — make their intentions clear. “You want an epic rock song,” they might as well be saying? “Oh, we’ll give you an epic rock song.”
They pull out all the stops in their quest, and while the band has never been a critical darling, it’s easy to admire their gumption. These songs are sweeping, synth-infected rock jams accented by children’s choruses (“Night of the Hunter”), clap-and-stomp choirs (“Vox Populi”) and an array of effects pedals (“King and Queens”).
Their popularity with kids is obvious. The younger Leto is a heartthrob, and the music is simple and digestible. Even though the production is reliably over-the-top, it’s as harmless and inoffensive as Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus. Plus, the affable seriousness of the record will surely give its fans something to chuckle about five to 10 years from now. – Ricardo Baca
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Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post. He is also the executive director of the Underground Music Showcase, Colorado’s premier indie music festival. Follow his whimsies at Twitter, his live music habit at Gigbot and his iTunes addictions at Last.fm.