Saturday, March 28, 2009

#29 Album of the Decade- Justified


#29- Justin Timberlake- Justified (2002)

I remember my first encounter with Justified well. After a long night out, my friend Griffin drove me home and, upon reaching my parents' house, he told me he had something for me (no homo) and called up a song I would later know as "Senorita." Breezy yet polished, the album opener presents the outlook that defines the whole record, a coy mixture of calculated professionalism and youthful exuberance. On one hand, Timberlake glides across the cowbell pattern and knows not to waste too much time on the verses. On the other, he adds a self-indulgent introduction from Pharrell and a sexual posturing that belies how young and green he was. During the call-and-response outro, I remember Griffin exclaiming, "Who does that anymore?" The answer is no one. Because of his history with *NSYNC, Timberlake was already an industry pro before his first solo album; but he retains the energy and focus of someone who knows this is probably his only shot, that he, for once, is the star.

Looking back on it, one of the more interesting parts of my exchange with Griffin was that, as I left the car, he passed me a CD-R labeled simply "JT." God forbid he fill out the full name of the artist or the title of the record. You have to remember, these were different times. Justin Timberlake was not on the Saturday Night Live host Mount Rushmore. He wasn't the impeccably dressed man all guys secretly want to hang out with or be or be with (kind of a little bit homo). He was the high-pitched kid from that boy band your sister liked, and he was anything but cool. Reflecting on the distance he's traveled from that point to his current status as a full-fledged adult hitmaker, it's even more astonishing how much ground is covered on Justified.

The mainstream media outlets resisted the charms I fell for, but they came around. You saw lots of begrudging three star reviews. NME famously granted him the number three album of the year...a year-and-a-half after the album was released. In 2003 Justin was nominated for one lousy grammy, the obscure Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Once again, a year-and-a-half later, he took home two awards. Eventually, people realized that mainstream pop could also be unimpeachably, even historically, great. We now live in a more forgiving age, when Kelly Clarkson songs can show up on the most serious critics' year-end lists, but the reason for that is mostly Justin Timberlake.

Timbaland and the Neptunes co-produce the album, along with their fledgling associate Scott Storch, but the fact that Timberlake still emerges as the star, even in a song as gargantuan as "Cry Me a River," is a testament to his charisma. Cribbing from the structure and mood of Michael Jackson's Off the Wall, he manages to hit every audience he targets and cross over into all the ones who were haters before.

A few of the ballads are treacly ("You're out of this world but you're not green" is one of the more cringe-worthy lines), and the album cover screams "Hey girl, you did bring the oxygen, right?" But those are quibbles. This is pop at its absolute best by a guy who will be playing with the format for years to come.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Choose Your Own Adventure: You Are a College Basketball Player



You are a nineteen-year-old African-American man, possibly wearing a headband. You play power forward for your team, but you're only about 6'6"--what one might call a "tweener"--so you have a limited future at any level higher than this. You receive an inbounds pass and are besieged by defenders, who are set up in a full-court trap.

- If you want to dribble out of the trap, skip to paragraph two.
- If you want to pass the ball to the pointguard who dribbles between his legs unnecessarily, skip to paragraph three.

You attempt to dribble out of the trap and split the double-team. You, however, play in a robotic offense in which you rarely have to handle the ball, so you are unprepared for the situation. You turn the ball over, as your team will do seventeen times in the game. This leads to a fast break layup for the opposing team. This layup will take them out of position, and they will take their time getting back on defense, which will lead to your team getting a fast break layup. Return to paragraph one.

You pass the ball to the hotshot pointguard and make your way to the other side of the court. When he gets caught in another trap, he passes it back to you. You note that the defense is in a 3-2 zone. You look puzzled for a moment, then hand off the ball to a guard to set up the robotic offense.

- If you want the guard to jack up a three, skip to paragraph four.
- If you want the guard to drive to the basket, skip to paragraph five.

He jacks up a three and misses it. You didn't box out well for the rebound, so you go over the back of the other forward. You corral the rebound without getting a foul called on you. Return to paragraph three.

He drives to the basket with reckless abandon.

- If you want him to throw up an awkward scoop shot or finger roll, skip to paragraph six.
- If you want him to kick it out to a teammate camped out at the three-point line, skip to paragraph seven.

Somehow, he makes the awkward scoop shot or finger roll.

Your teammate jacks up a three. Return to paragraph four.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March Sports Rumblings

In the first installment of what should become a running column, I'm going to present some short opinions on sports-related issues. These are pieces that are too undeveloped to be their own columns, but I think I should mention them anyway. I'm patterning it after Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column, but I hope to offer twenty-five percent less tool.


The University of Florida immortalized Tim Tebow today by adding this plaque to Ben-Griffin Stadium. (If you've deified someone, aren't they already immortal though?) As much as I make fun of Timothy, I have to admit that the living legend status is hard. Just think: if the speech was actually any good, he would have gotten a statue. Now we have to wait at least ten years for one, after three years of Tebow getting circled on the telestrator during Jaguars punt returns and goal-line sneaks, one year of Tebow holding a clipboard for the Cowboys, one year of not making the Redskins' team, and five years owning a Mitsubishi dealership. "You will never see anyone undersell me on a Galant. I promise."

***

There are very few people who follow college basketball during the season (myself included), but everyone comes out of the woodwork during March Madness. Did I ever assume that I could approach the mid-fifties ESOL teacher at my school and go, "How you like that DeJuan Blair, huh?" No. But she's in a pool along with twenty other co-workers of mine. So people like the NCAA Tournament, even more than I thought. That's not my point. My point is why people like it, which I think has something to do with rooting for winners. Cheering for Duke during the season is indefensible, but rooting for them so that they don't ruin your bracket is okay. Secretly, people like pulling for number one seeds. It takes something as contrived as the Field of 65 for us to allow ourselves this pleasure. People say that falling in love with underdogs is "what the tournament is all about," but among serious sports fans it's actually the opposite.


If I never hear Verne mention a player's "girth" again, I'll be...less amused.

***

I never gave a shit about Lance Armstrong, and I still don't.

***

Jay Cutler won eight games for the Denver Broncos last year. He threw for 25 TDs, 18 INTs, and a poo-ton of yards. It took him three seasons to reach this level of above-averageness. Three years of confidence from the Broncos organization, who made him a multi-millionaire as a first round draft pick, even though most NFL fans' only opinion of the Vanderbilt singal-caller at the time was "I heard someday he might be good." Somehow, Cutler thinks this performance makes him untradeable. The mere fact that the Broncos even considered the assets they could potentially receive for him in a trade made him demand--purely on principle--a trade. Talk about ungrateful. Imagine if he took them to the playoffs. He'd expect a statue. You can complain about Terrell Owens all you want, but at least he understands that he's a commodity, just like any players other than Brady and Manning. Now Cutler will probably get traded to a team with a harsher future than Denver. Way to show what's important to you.

In most cases, we've been conditioned to believe that the owners and front offices are always the bad guys. But in this case, they're completely correct. Jay Cutler has done nothing to inspire fierce loyalty to him, and his reaction to a possible trade has only proven how disloyal he is to them. And if I were Josh McDaniels, instead of apologizing to anyone I'd be hard from the beginning and go, "Matt Cassell won eleven games last year. Just sayin'."


Josh McDaniels looks like a combination of four dudes in my high school Theology class. And you can expect me to make jokes about this for the entire season. "He's not calling a sweep; he's asking whether or not it's a sin to have phone sex with your wife." Just a few months to go. And according to the Catechism, yes.

***

Speaking of the NFL, the owners met this week and voted on a few rule changes that are mostly lame. The most interesting wrinkle in their discussions, however, was the possibility of changing the season from sixteen games to eighteen, in what is clearly a money-grab. This is great if it means the worthless preseason will be shortened or eliminated, and I also like the soap opera aspect this brings. That's two more games of Cowboys implosions, two more games of T.O. veiled insults, and lots of "Star X actually coming back from that supposed season-ending injury" sub-plots.

What I'm worried about is whether or not this gives too much of an advantage to cold weather teams. If we're going well into January in the regular season, how many games will Pittsburgh win based on snow alone?* And the more I think about it, part of football's appeal is the fact that people hang on every game. Adding more games will only hurt the importance of each one. Any records that were still sacred will also go out the window. But hey, anything's better than the sports wasteland I'm about to endure this summer.

Which brings me to baseball. No. It doesn't.

*- All bets are off if this means the Super Bowl falls on the day before President's Day, which would be a public school holiday. The day after the Super Bowl being a holiday is worth almost any sacrifice.