When two stars from a long time ago release new albums, everybody listens...or do they? And are the albums any good?
by Loren A. Roberts (guru of multi-hyphenate media)
Bob Lefsetz thinks that both of these albums are dead-on-arrival [Timberlake, Bowie], mainly because they relied on the traditional mass-media-blitz marketing model that pre-dates the current Kickstarter-YouTube-viral model that now is the de riguer of stars trying to make a buck (here's looking at you, Veronica Mars). What Bob doesn't address is that both of these megastars have transformed the pop landscape with their music.
Will they do it again?
Probably not, but you can't fault them for enjoying making music. Here's the thing: I love making music. I only wrote four measures last week, and they sucked, but it was still a joy. You can tell that both Justin Timberlake and David Bowie love doing what they are doing, which is crafting pop/rock gems that get people's feet tapping. Or dancing. Or stomping.
First, the numbers. Soundscan estimated around 85,000 copies of Bowie's album (The Next Day) in its first week, which came in second to Jon Bon Jovi's latest. Although the numbers aren't final yet, it is looking like Timberlake (The 20/20 Experience) will land somewhere between 800,000 and one million copies sold in its first week.
So for reference, Timberlake out-sold Bowie 10 to 1 in their respective first weeks. Yowza. Too bad: Bowie should get more respect. But then celebrity culture is for the young, right?
I gotta say, I'm enjoying both albums, even through their faults. Bowie seems to play it safe. There's no Fashion or Ziggy that truly makes me sit up and stop doing anything else to just listen to the music, but it's all good material. He's a great songwriter. Justin Timberlake (and producing partner Timbaland) know how to craft a groove and a mood, and they do it well; but then they let the groove go for a few minutes too long on a bunch of songs (the album clocks in at over 70 minutes!).
But what I enjoy is the maturity that both albums exhibit. Not that being young and brash are bad, but I'm older now too. Case in point: when watching Les Miserables this time, I had much more empathy for Jean Valjean than the last time I saw the musical on stage 15 years ago. Then, I was closer to Marius' age. Now, I'm a dad and a businessman, and I get the weight of parenting and the joy of seeing something truly beautiful happen to your charge, as when Valjean is able to create a better life for Cosette through Marius. I get it.
So does Timberlake. So does Bowie.
On The Stars Are Out Tonight, it seems Bowie fully comprehends the double-edged nature of that celebrity culture he has lived in for the last forty years:
Here they are upon the stairs
Sexless and unaroused
They are the stars, they're dying for you
But I hope they live forever
They burn you with their radiant smiles
Trap you with their beautiful eyes
They're broke and shamed or drunk or scared
But I hope they live forever
It's not jaded, but it's knowing -- it's mature. It's almost as if he knows too much, and has to let some of that knowledge out...and we get to watch it ooze out of Bowie's psyche. Gorgeous.
And, as much as it pains me to say that Timberlake is mature (some of the lyrics are so laughingly syrup-y sweet that I think they were written by a 12-year-old girl on some Facebook post), he is starting to understand what the world looks like through an adult's eyes:
Cause I don't wanna lose you now
I'm lookin' right at the other half of me
The vacancy that sat in my heart
Is a space that now you hold
Show me how to fight for now
And I'll tell you baby, it was easy
Comin' back into you once I figured it out
You were right here all along
It's like you're my mirror
Responsibility. Long-term relationships. Pain...heartbreak...commitment...inter-dependency...it's all there. He's growin' up.
So, although the reviews are all over the place for both of these albums, and the cards are stacked against their longevity -- at least in terms of sales (and even more so -- cultural impact), I am rooting for Timberlake and Bowie. It's great to hear a couple of great pop songwriters come back and shake up the young kids' party every once in a while. The great music is there, the lyrics are compelling and grown-up, and, above all, they both have a "joy of music" (joie de la musique?) that you can read on their faces a million miles away.
LOREN A. ROBERTS produces films, videos and music, designs magazines and logos, plays and sings in a Doobie Brothers tribute band, and is a student of what happens when science and technology and the arts and culture collide. www.hearkencreative.com
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