I’ll admit it, I never wanted to like Justin Timberlake as an artist. I have always had a knee-jerk reaction to manufactured boy bands, and seeing as Timberlake was in one of the biggest in history -- N*Sync -- I just couldn't see him as anything but a corporate puppet. He seemed destined to languish in the dustbin of has-been teen pop stars, the kind who put out a couple of quickly-forgotten solo albums before the inevitable guest spot on "Dancing with the Stars" or Vh-1's "Celebrity Rehab."
Yet here we are, several years after N*Sync’s heyday, and Timberlake has managed to silence his detractors by crafting a solo career that makes his boy band days seem like a mere warm-up. I will happily eat crow and say that he continues to impress me with his raw talent, brilliant commercial acumen, and genuine passion for making music. I know it sounds like marketing hubris, but watching Timberlake in 'FutureSex/LoveShow,' there are flashes of triple-threat brilliance that recall the glory days a Michael Jackson and Prince. Against all my previous judgments, this Timberlake guy is the real deal -- he's got the looks, the moves, and most importantly, the songs.
'FutureSex/LoveShow' is as good a document as any as to why Timberlake is the only member of N*Sync (and, it seems, any '90s boy band) to not only survive his tenure as an insipid pop mannequin, but to stomp that albatross into the ground and emerge as an even more inspired solo artist. Timberlake is just as savvy as any of his peers (Madonna, Pink, Christina Aguilera or even Britney Spears, when she was still relevant) in mixing song, dance, state-of-the-art staging, and Broadway-style theatrical revues, but that's long been a feat expected of any modern pop icon. Where Timberlake elevates the form is in bringing a real sense of musicianship to the spectacle. He can dance and sing, sure, but the show-stopping moments during 'FutureSex/LoveShow' are when he sits down at the piano and let's it rip with the band.
Nowhere is this more evident than in a tune like "What Goes Around... Comes Around." With it's delightfully tumbling chorus and funky mix of old-school groove and modern production polish, it's a great pop tune on any level, but when Timberlake starts jamming at the piano, he and his band suddenly fuse into one -- it's that rare instance of musical nirvana, where you get goosebumps witnessing a natural-born performer at the peak of his creative powers.
However, I'm not so sold on much of Timberlake's output before his recent chart-topping and Grammy-winning 'FutureSex/LoveSounds' CD (which this tour supports). An older tune like "Rock Your Body" sounds like a direct lift from Jackson's "Off the Wall" LP, while the Top 40 schmaltz of "Cry Me a River" made me want to do exactly that. Timberlake also loses some of his energy during the medley portion of the show, which feels like both a call-out to the cheap seats, as well as a bone thrown to the aging N*Sync contingent.
Needless to say, none of that will matter to Timberlake fans. 'FutureSex/LoveShow' sees him doing exactly what he should be at this stage in his career, entertaining the faithful with exactly the show they want to experience, as well as craftily expanding his musical boundaries to woo in new fans (like, begrudgingly, me). I don't think 'FutureSex/LoveShow' will totally convert the Timberlake haters out there, but if you've previously dismissed him as just another boy band poseur, it just may challenge those preconceptions. And damn, there's some fine music here...
The 21-song tracklist includes: FutureSex/LoveSounds 01. Opening Conversation / 02. FutureSex/LoveSounds / 03. Like I Love You / 04. My Love / 05. Senorita / 06. Sexy Ladies / 07. Until The End Of Time / 08. What Goes Around…Comes Around / 09. Chop Me Up / 10. Intermission (with Timbaland) / 11. Rock Your Body / 12. Gone / 13. Take It From Here / 14. Last Night / 15. Damn Girl / 16. Summer Love / 17. Losing My Way / 18. Cry Me A River / 19. LoveStoned/I Think She Knows / 20. SexyBack / 21. (Another Song) All Over Again / 22. Goodnights (Credits)
'Justin Timberlake: FutureSex/LoveShow' was shot using multiple HD cameras in native 1080/60i, and is presented here as a 1080i/VC-1 encode. It's another strong showing from Sony BMG, who continue to knock 'em out of the park and are, for my money, fast becoming the leader in high-def music releases.
As with previous Sony releases such as 'Celine Dion: A New Day... Live in Las Vegas' and 'Destiny's Child: Live In Atlanta,' Justin's 'FutureSex/LoveShow' extravaganza is a treat for the eyes. The stage design, the lighting, and the costumes are awash in bold, vibrant colors that are reproduced with great panache on Blu-ray. Hues are rock solid, with excellent stability and clarity. Typical of shot-on-HD material, detail is exceptional and depth is often breathtaking -- 'FutureSex/LoveShow' definitely has that "you are there" look of the best high-def.
There are a couple of minor flaws. Shadow delineation is not five-star, with a bit of noise on the darkest colors, so a few smoky and dimly-lit shots can look a tad fuzzy. I also saw some of the dreaded jaggies on very sharp edges, along with a few bits of slight pixelization during fast cuts. These are mere blips compared to how good 'FutureSex/LoveShow' looks for the vast majority of its runtime, however, so overall there is little to disappoint.
Sony offers three audio options for 'FutureSex/LoveShow': uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo (both 48kHz/24-bit), and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps). The PCM tracks are the clear way to go, although I wasn't as impressed here as I have been with past Sony BMG high-res audio presentations.
My biggest problem is with the way the recording itself has been mixed. The vocals (both Justin and the backing band) often feel overwhelmed by the instrumentation, so there is a lack of distinction between the various sonic elements. The 5.1 mix also lacks much in the way of dispersion of sounds to the rears, aside from crowd noise, so I didn't feel there was as much benefit over the 2.0 track as there usually is between multi-channel and stereo presentations. Thus, the soundtrack often seems to "collapse," and lacks the kind of airy, three-dimensional quality of such top-flight Sony titles as 'Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City' and Celine Dion: A New Day... Live in Las Vegas.
All other aspects of the PCM tracks are very strong, however. The source is terrific, with excellent low bass extension and very clean and expansive high end. The less bombastic numbers also boast better realism, with individual instruments more refined, and Justin's voice given ample room to shine. To be fair, 'FutureSex/LoveShow' still sounds good -- even great in spots -- but I can't help but wish the PCM tracks had been mixed a bit more smartly and with a beefier surround presence.
Sony BMG has struck a deal with Best Buy for the release of 'FutureSex/LoveShow,' so as of this writing, the Blu-ray is available exclusively with the retailer. I'm not sure if that's why Sony decided to go a bit chintzy with the extras here, but this two-disc set is not a true Blu release -- the second platter of bonus features is a standard-def DVD only. All of the second disc's video material is in 480p/i/MPEG-2 only, and although it looks perfectly fine for SD, these kind of Blu-ray/DVD combo sets still feel like a cheat to me.
'Justin Timberlake: FutureSex/LoveShow' is an energetic, hits-filled spectacular that proves the singer is one of today's most magnetic pop talents. This Blu-ray release presents his show quite well, with great video, and nice (if not five-star) audio. I wasn't all that pleased that the second disc of bonus features is DVD-only, so when taken as a total package, 'FutureSex/LoveShow' isn't quite up to the top-tier standards set by the best Sony BMG music Blu-ray releases, but Justin fans should still definitely check it out.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.