Despite a seemingly never-ending array of guest spots on records from artists as diverse as Reba McEntire, Duran Duran, and Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake could never be described as the most prolific of solo artists. Since *NSYNC unofficially disbanded in 2002, only two studio albums have come to fruition, the eight million-selling Justified and ...
Despite a seemingly never-ending array of guest spots on records from artists as diverse as Reba McEntire, Duran Duran, and Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake could never be described as the most prolific of solo artists. Since *NSYNC unofficially disbanded in 2002, only two studio albums have come to fruition, the eight million-selling Justified and the Sign 'O' the Times Prince era-inspired FutureSex/LoveSounds, while more recently he's switched his focus to starring in Oscar-baiting dramas ( The Social Network ) and commercial raunchy comedies ( Bad Teacher ). So the release of Essential Mixes, an 11-track album featuring club-friendly reworkings of all of his previous singles, will at the very least bump up his sparse back catalog and perhaps appease his army of fans desperate for new material. Of course, the remix album is notoriously hard to pull off, as Lady Gaga's patchy recent effort will attest to, with the tendency to smother the original in generic pounding beats and repetitive synths often the concept's downfall. Luckily, Essential Mixes, one of a series of a 2010 releases that has also tackled the works of Kylie Minogue, Usher, and Avril Lavigne, features a consistently stellar lineup of hotshot and well-respected producers who are a cut above the copy-and-paste merchants usually wheeled out for these types of affairs. Superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold ensures that the original disco leanings of "Rock Your Body" make the smooth transition into a full-blown funky bass-led Chic-esque number, Parisian duo Justice ramp up the strings on "LoveStoned/I Think She Knows" to create a modern take on Off the Wall's smooth soul-pop, while Basement Jaxx effortlessly incorporate their trademark acid house sounds on Timberlake's debut single, "Like I Love You." Not all the remixes are as successful. Timbaland's futuristic production is replaced by formulaic four-to-the-floor beats and meandering electro bleeps on Linus Loves' version of "SexyBack," Dirty Vegas' ethereal chilled-out reworking of "Cry Me a River" removes the raw emotion that made the original so compelling, and the garage-led Num Club Mix of "Seħorita" could have been lifted from any mediocre late-'90s dance compilation. But while Essential Mixes doesn't always do justice to the consistently brilliant source material, in the likely absence of any near-future releases from the man himself, it's an intriguing stopgap that shows Timberlake's sound is capable of translating to the Ibiza dance scene as well as the U.S. R&B clubs. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi