Release Year: 2001
If you haven’t guessed from how often I talk about them, I was a huge Nsync fan. I couldn’t get enough of their third album. I thought it was smart, fun, and the best record I’ve ever heard. I don’t exactly feel the same way now, but I just like most of their releases, this one is a lot of fun. It shows the guys maturing and coming in to their own as songwriters. They try to take on heavier topics in the relationship realm, but it never strays too far from standard boy band fare.
“What’s the deal with this/pop life and when is it gonna fade out?” sings Justin Timberlake on the opener “Pop,” which criticizes the harsh feedback boy bands and bubblegum pop music received at the time. Justin goes on to claim that “what we’re doing is not a trend” and that “they’re gonna bring it til the end.” Maybe someone should remind him of that. The line now seems a bit ridiculous seeing as how it is a trend. Shortly after this album, boy bands faded from popularity. But I guess you can’t say it died, since we have One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer. Still, it’s a song that’s fun as hell to sing. The band really tried to have heavier, harder hitting music where more of their attitude comes through. For some reason, the song ends with awkward beat boxing from Timberlake. Though he may be decent at it now he wasn’t so great at it then.
The first half of the album is pretty strong with most of the singles and catchiest tracks found. “The Game is Over” uses a video game motif, including game sound effects and 8-bit music that’s questionable, but tolerable. Things get better on “Girlfriend,” which is still one of their best songs. It has a bit of a hip hop feel and an irresistible hook. And things only get better on the remix version featuring Nelly. “The Two of Us” is another good song with upbeat, fun music with a bright melody. Things start off slow and kind of mellow and then speed up during the chorus. What’s surprising about all these songs is Timberlake or Chasez had a hand in writing it. Though it’s not the best example of fine writing, it’s still pretty interesting since boy bands were criticized for not writing their own songs. Justin even had a hand in what would one of the band’s biggest hits.
“Gone” is the single that made people take Nsync a bit more seriously. It also showed how they moved beyond the bubblegum pop they were known for. I remember the song got so popular, they even started playing the video on BET. It’s the best ballad on the album with Timberlake taking over on vocal duty. At the time it was his strongest vocal performance. His voice has gotten better since then. With an R&B influence and a hint of Latin guitar, the song showed the boys had grown up. What makes it so good is it has genuine emotion. When Justin hits that one note at the end, you can feel his heartache. With a solid performance like this was it any surprise Timberlake went solo after this LP? The track still sounds incredibly good to this day and proves not everything Nsync did was cheesy and cliché.
From here the rest of the album falls flat. “Tell Me, Tell Me…Baby” is decent, but sounds like it could be from their previous album, while “Up Against the Wall” is their attempt at a “club banger” that’s pretty laughable. No boy band album would be complete without the corny love songs. “Something Like You” and “Selfish” are both generic, full of cheesy slow jam music that should’ve stayed in the 90s, and are just dull. I think I’m too old to be swayed by their ballads at this point. “Just Don’t Tell Me That” is actually a strong track, but suffers from appearing so late on the album. The closing track “Do Your Thing” is the best of the bunch. The light, airy music feels like it’s going to take you away, puts you at ease, and makes you feel good. It also shows what a talented singer Joey Fatone is. Previously, Joey didn’t have a lot of room to show his vocal ability, but here he’s front and center. His falsetto is sweet and gentle, not forced like Justin’s. And considering his size you wouldn’t expect his vocals to be so light and soft. Even his rapping, which appears midway through the song, isn’t horrible. It’s a shame he didn’t find much success after his time with the band.
Though this would be Nsync’s last hurrah, it showed a change in the boy band. Sure, the cheesy love songs and cliché boy band tropes are still there, but the album shows the guys maturing. They began to move away from the bubble gum pop that was popular in the late 90s. They even began writing their own songs, which they hadn’t done so much in the past. The album isn’t perfect, but it at least showed it was possible for a group of five guys to move forward and change in their career. Now, if only Justin can be convinced to do an Nsync reunion tour then everything will be great.