For anyone truly shocked by the second installment of Timbaland's studio albums, the proper idiom would be "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." After a decade or two of some truly inspiring production for artists like Aaliyah and Missy Elliott, Timbaland (a.k.a. Timothy Mosley) did pull a bit of a shocker with the first installment back in 2007, moving far away from the hip-hop and R&B arena to produce some lasting pop and rock records. While Timbo's work with Justin Timberlake, Ashlee Simpson, Bjork, and Nelly Furtado preceeded Shock Value by almost a year, elements of that album were still fresh for fans of the producer. There are two nominally shocking aspects to Shock Value II. For one, the artists that collaborated with Timbaland on this release were unexpected, mostly due to their mainstream pop sound. Timbaland did a fantastic job a few years ago revitalizing or creating some artists careers, but a good amount of the talent on Shock Value 2 don't need this boost, they are fine on their own. Secondly, for all the great music that he has produced in the past, for all the talented artists involved in the album, Shock Value II is a rather large let down.
As A Pop Album...
...Shock Value II actually hits all the right notes. Timbaland has an ability to create infectious hooks and in-the-moment enjoyable tracks, and he plays to this strength here. Tracks like "Carry Out" with Justin Timberlake, a fantastic fast food euphamism and the excellent collaboration with JoJo, "Lose Control" showcase Timbaland's ability to craft top-notch pop. "Morning After Dark" featuring Parisian newcomer SoShy and Nelly Furtado, for all its trendy pandering to the vamp-crazy pop media, is also a well-crafted pop track. The chance meeting of Katy Perry and Timbo in the clubby bar setting that is "If We Ever Meet Again" rides the wave of dance-flavored pop that is currently dominating the airwaves. The track is also has the best tempo and content of Shock Value 2 for dancefloor remixes, boasting quality productions from Chew Fu (who also tackled "Morning After Dark") and Digital Dog. "The Undertow" featuring Esthero (!) and The Fray is a pensive, slow-paced and well-sung Coldplay-with-beats track that is utterly out of place on this album but is perhaps the most beautiful offering of Timbaland's career. Esthero's involvement on Shock Value 2 is one of the biggest accomplishments of the album, as her absence from the music scene since her Wikkid Lil' Girls album has been sharply felt. It is a double-edged sword though, for while "The Undertow" showcases the Canadian chanteuse brilliantly, she unfortunately also shares the spotlight on the fast and messy "Can You Feel It" with Sebastian. One is memorable, the other is almost unforgivable.
When It's Bad, It's Bad
"Can You Feel It" isn't the only piece of coal on the album. Timbaland never sounds better than he does when he is barely vocally involved. So tracks like "Meet In Tha Middle" and "Timothy Where You Been" feel like desperate attempts for Mosley to prove himself as more than a producer. Amidst the bevy of talented singers and musicians, Timbo's voice is awkward and counterproductive to the overall effect. This applies spectacularly to "Say Something," where both Timbaland and Drake sound bored. "Timothy Where You Been" is a lazy and emotional soft rock track featuring Jet that Mosley uses as a platform to try to resurrect 90s hip hop, but it feels tainted. "Ease off the Liquor" sounds like a better place for Timbaland to use his voice, a party track dedicated to that drunk girl in the bar who swears she's fine. Another party track, "We Belong to the Music" featuring Miley Cyrus, looks great on paper. Miley is a star who will continue to rise with her smokey voice and catchy pop sensibilities, but her translation to Shock Value II produces something... so boringly similar. A fast-paced teen anthem where neither Cyrus nor Mosley actually take one progressive step, or even a step out of line. This track is aimed for the drones that eat up the mainstream, and where the collaboration could have been a fantastic artistic departure for both parties, it ends up being forgettable and, ultimately, passable. "Tomorrow In The Bottle" with Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, which is an interpolation of Sebastian's "Bottom of the Bottle," is bland and uninspiring.
Shock Value II does provide some great pop offerings, but the reason it qualifies as a let down is the fact that Timbaland got eaten by the beast he created. As one of the most talented and visionary producers of the late 90's and early 00's, Timbaland should not be putting out banal and derivative pop music. No boundary has been pushed on Shock Value 2, and there is not a track here we haven't heard before. Enjoy what you can while you can, because Shock Value II is like a glazed donut. Good for a bit before it goes stale.
Released December 2009 on Blackground Records.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.