By this point, there isn't anyone out there still eager to play the serious-music card, is there? No one champing at the bit to discredit hip-hop or heavy metal or twee-pop as lesser forms of a medium that counts boring ol' Beethoven or Jeff Lynne or whoever as despot? If so, as one grizzly rock dinosaur once asked, where you been? 'Cause you gotta look no further than the Top 40 to see the future--whether or not the eggheads clinging to their moldy Captain Beefheart sides will admit it. But that's not really being fair--to us, the eggheads or Justin Timberlake, the most talented, best-looking, least hirsute member of 'N Sync, whose new album Celebrity sold nearly 2 million copies in one week last month. To say that 'N Sync is more adventurous than Captain Beefheart is to miss the point: Free jazz is cool, man, and I'm so glad you really got deep into that tonal cluster, and isn't it cool how this music doesn't really sound like rock? But the thing is, Trout Mask Replica was my parents' totem; I need something about me.
Not that I can identify with the complaining 'N Sync does a whole lot of on Celebrity--I don't have a lot of money, I'm not famous, and my girlfriend doesn't "take it personal 'cause I did when you cheated on me." But the sounds Celebrity seeps--and there are so many of them it would take at least as long to hear them all as it would to get into Beefheart's stuff once--establish a context that you gotta be dead not to recognize as the crisp rustle of right now.
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Timberlake knows this, of course; that's why he spends the album's first song defending himself. "All that matters is that you get hype, and we'll do it to you every time," he sneers atop a bed of grinding guitars, metronomic digital splutters and subsonic bass. He's right, at least about the next 50 minutes: This shit bangs, continuously. "The Two of Us" is a stutter-stepped rewrite of Jordan Knight's genius "Give It to You," replete with Ferris wheel chimes and two-step breakbeats. "Girlfriend" comes courtesy of the Neptunes, who've only done this kind of thing better on their remix of the Backstreet Boys' "The Call." "Tell Me, Tell Me...Baby" is perfect Swedish dance-pop, inexplicable ellipse and all. And "Gone," which Timberlake helmed, might as well be a Jim O'Rourke production, so expertly diced are its second verse's acoustic guitars and string section. But describing this stuff is stupid. You'll have heard the whole thing within three months, and, no matter what the lame indie rockers say, it's not just because Jive owns the universe (in fact, it only owns a controlling interest). It's because your little sister is the new hipster, and your college radio station is stuck playing old Merzbow LPs. "Do you ever wonder why this music gets you high?" Timberlake asks on "Pop." Not lately.