Unshackled from FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake’s “LoveStoned/I Think That She Knows” sounds even more outré on Top 40 radio – those that play the seven-minute album version, that is. Fans have been in such a hurry to praise the trancey Coldplay coda at the expense of the stupendous front half. JT finally finds the right setting for his beatboxing skills, which are as marginally impressive as his guitar playing; and the way Timbo surrounds JT’s grunts, yelps, doubletracked chorus vocals with disco strings that dip and glide mirrors the anxiety that dissolves into the euphoria of locking eyes with someone on the dance floor and she looks back. The music suggests endless possibilities; since songs are mostly monologues not dialogues the singer’s optimism feels endearing, especially when you remind yourself that most guys with JT’s swagger, looks, and money picking up girls in clubs confuse optimism with determination (they’re sleazy instead of sexy; when JT essayed the former on “Sexyback,” it wasn’t convincing). JT’s lyrics often get short shrift, but the title compound is goofily appropriate: the sort of twaddle your friend will mistakenly hear you say when you’re both shouting above the din.
I last listened to “I think That She Knows” when New Order’s “Dream Attack” succeeded it on my iPod’s running order. Their similarities are striking. I love Bernard Sumner’s tone; instead of the voice of the detached techie (to borrow Robert Christgau’s affectionate moniker), we hear a guy so enraptured that it feels as if his voice might crack if forced to utter another syllable. The picked guitar and synth backdrop in “Dream Attack” conjure a post-erotic dawn; “I Think That She Knows” evokes pre-erotic awe; this coda sounds sexless, like a medieval painter contemplating the mysteries of the Virgin. It’s the singer shedding one mask for another. Imagine JT exchanging the dancing-fool swagger for sensitivo acoustics once he’s home and had time to assimilate his experience. He’s singing and writing about an impression that’s beyond his emotional capabilities; the best he can do is to compare it to being really stoned.