The second of my posts in honour of UNESCO’s Let’s Get Lyrical campaign. Originally posted on my old blog, January 11th 2009.
Ah, iTunes. The magic of shuffle is indeed a powerful tool.
It has in recent moments come out with ‘Losing My Way’, a provocatively poor track from the otherwise surprisingly enjoyable Future Sex/Love Sounds by none other than Justin Timberlake.
I was leant the CD by an embarrassed friend who entreated me not to tell anyone where it came from. Released in 2006, just ahead of several undeniably better albums (Jarvis Cocker’s first solo effort, a re-release of Pavement’s Wowee Zowee, Pieces of the People we Love by The Rapture – the list goes on), it received mixed reviews. I know this because I just read a load of them. Tim Finney of Pitchfork, for instance, wrote: “According to the laws of momentum which govern pop music, any sequel [to a debut album] could only be either be a pale reflection or a hubristic monstrosity. With FutureSex/LoveSounds he unrepentantly chooses the latter.”
That’s a tad unfair. The album is by no means a total failure, although it does veer from the sublime to the ridiculous with the breakneck speed of a toddler pumped full of cherryade, and it fizzles out a little bit towards the end. On the other hand, I was rather expecting it to be gash, so the fact it was any craic at all is a tribute to the Timberlake. The first single, after all, was SexyBack, a hugely confusing track for those of us who didn’t know sexy had left in the first place, and the song chosen to annoy the crap out of anyone who listened to Star FM (the St Andrews University Radio Station) at the time of release, as it was their signature tune. St Andrews University Radio is not now, nor has it ever been, bringing sexy back.
But what I really want to talk to you about is not Sexyback, nor the album as a whole, but the aforementioned crap in a bag that is ‘Losing My Way’. This is an anti-drugs song so preachy that a gospel choir comes in half way through. Lucy Davies of BBC online “can’t decide whether this is brilliant or cheese on toast.” It’s the latter. No question. Rolling Stone’s Robert Christgau is far closer to the mark in describing it as a “clueless embarrassment.”
It’s about a crack addict called Bob, who will probably never know the colour of his daughter’s eyes on account of all the drugs. Drugs are bad, m’kay. It’s deep, meaningful and touching. Victor, of lyricsdepot.com, said “Justin expressed my pain in one song”. A few posts down, Nanea elaborates “this song could for so many situations not just drugs.. like alcohol problems or anything that might cause you to lose your way. I pray for those who have lost thier way and hope God lights their path. I thank JT for singing a song that touched me.” Evidence that people who genuinely enjoy this track are unable to proof read their own posts, if nothing else. The only thing this song touches is the gag reflex, or whatever nerve it is that makes you cringe.
The epic melodrama sees Justin, whose acting you may remember from Shrek 3, sings from the point of view of a junkie. To engage the listener, he easily introduces himself through rhyme:
“Hi my name is Bob and I work at my job.”
The man is a poet.
“I make forty-some dollars a day
I used to be the man in my hometown
’til I started to lose my way”
The reason Bob thinks that ‘forty-some’ is a number is quickly explained:
“It all goes back to when I dropped out at school
Having fun, I was living the life
But now I got a problem with that little white rock
See I can’t put down the pipe.”
It’s about as subtle as Just Say No.
“It is breaking me down, watching the world spin round..
While my dreams fall down
Is anybody out there?”
It is unclear whether Bob is tripping and can see the world spinning around as part of a hallucination, or whether the fact the world spins round is something he vaguely remembers from watching National Geographic in the middle of the night having been unable to score. But more important is the point that his dreams have not come true, and he feels alone. Drugs and lack of schooling will do that to you.
“Can anybody out there hear me? ‘Cause I can’t seem to hear myself…”
Wow, that is like, so true! Nobody listens to drug addicts except for the people they mug to fund their addiction.
“Can anybody out there see me? ‘Cause I can’t seem to see myself…”
Nobody makes eye contact with them, either. And not being seen makes you feel invisible. God, that Justin is good innee. Look at his hair.
“There’s gotta be a heaven somewhere”
Fair play. You can’t argue with established facts, like the proven existence of a physical heaven.
“Can you save me from this hell?”
Yes, for I am Justin Timberlake, popstar, actor and superhero! But I shall not tell you how yet, for we must add EVEN MORE DEPTH to this utterly believable, clearly based on more solid experience than watching a couple of True Movies, tale.
“Now you gotta understand I was a family man
I would have gave anything for my own”
(His family, that is)
“But I couldn’t get a grip on my new-found itch”
“So I ended up all alone
I remember where I was when I got my first buzz
See I thought I was living the life
And the craziest thing is I’ll probably never know the colour of my daughter’s eyes.”
Mmm. That implies she was unborn when all this transpired. Which begs several questions. How old is Bob? How long has Bob been on the drugs? Is he actually intending on getting clean at any stage? It seems he wants someone else to solve his problems for him, which is totes lazy imo. JT, you are a busy and important man, you shouldn’t be trying to find friends for indolent crackheads. And yet, he does. What a guy. All Bob need do, Justin suggests, is repent. And lo, he will be saved. Biblical.
Justin, it may be worth pointing out, has been in the entertainment industry since he was about ten. Call me a cynic, but it seems unlikely that he ever met a proper down and out junkie from the street when he was doing the Mickey Mouse club. When he comes into contact with drugs, it’s surely in rather more glamorous surroundings than poor old Bobby Bob Bob. Essentially, I think he’s watched a documentary and written a song about it.
I look forward to the follow-up, a ditty from the point of view of the half-ton boy who was on that Bodyshock program. It’ll be poignant as fuck.