No, the problem with “Take Back the Night” is that it is musically abysmal, and, more importantly, deeply disappointing. Now, I didn’t know until recently that JT meant enough to me as an artist to truly, violently disappoint me, but it’s true. While his first two LPs are far from perfect, and contain their fair share of dreck (see “Losing My Way,” “Nothin’ Else”), the man at the helm at least seemed motivated by a desire to make danceable, KIIS-FM music that frustrated your expectations of what that was supposed to mean. Coming straight off a phenomenally successful but potentially limiting boyband run, his first single as a solo pop artist featured guest verses from Clipse, the self-proclaimed “Pioneers of the Coke-Rap.” You might chalk that up to the convenience of the Pharrell connection or the cynicism of a cred grab, but it’s actually much further past the Nelly feature on N*SYNC’s “Girlfriend” than any mere grope at credibility needed to go, and I’m sure there were a hundred less aggro rappers who could’ve served the same function to the major label bean-counters’ satisfaction. Whatever it was, it was absolutely NOT the easy or obvious choice.
But JT’s desire to push us went deeper than that. It can be hard to remember now because of the way in which FutureSex/LoveSounds took hold in public consciousness, but that shit was difficult to get through on first listen. Straightforward melody and the JT baby-boy falsetto were used sparingly, surrounded by pulsating, claustrophobic backing tracks rooted in dissonant keyboard stabs that somehow were simultaneously minimal and cluttered. It was Yeezus before Yeezus was Yeezus, and it was the sound of someone whose aesthetic choices were dictating what we were dancing to.