*NSYNC is nothing if not literal. Last time around, they freed themselves from their manager and titled the record No Strings Attached. This time around, after that album moved millions of copies, they've released an album called Celebrity, none too subtly drawing attention to the fact that they're stars. That's right -- this is a trials-n-tribulations of fame album, in the grand tradition of Bad, Use Your Illusion, and In Utero, complete with a garish cover that's a cross between Sgt. Pepper and a Sammy video. The difference is, of course, that the boys have been thirsting for this attention since they were children, so they're entirely comfortable with their position as kings of teen pop, and they celebrate their celebrity. And, let it not be said that they're not clever, since "Pop" isn't just a defense of their music, it stands as a rallying cry for their fans. And that signals what is so right about the record too -- *NSYNC is self-aware, not just of their position in the pop world, but how to consolidate their strengths while pushing forward. Since time immemorial (or at least since 1987), any pop group rounds up hot producers before making a new record, but *NSYNC has found producers that accentuate different sides of their music, from Brian McKnight smoothly delivering JC Chasez's "Selfish" to the Neptunes' subtle harpsichord groove on "Girlfriend." Nobody sticks around for too long -- only Riprock and Alex G are granted two tracks, with lead SYNC Justin Timberlake manning the board for no less than three songs, more than anybody else on the record -- and that's a blessing, since it keeps the album moving. As soon as BT's "Pop" wraps up, we're in Rodney Jerkins territory for the skittering title track and, not long afterward, Max Martin returns with "Tell Me, Tell Me...Baby," just in case old-school fans are missing Martin's patented Euro-schtick. All this means, on at least a superficial level, is that it's the group's most varied album yet, but the emergence of Timberlake and Chasez as credible soulful singers and, yes, songwriters makes it their best album yet, and one of the best of the teen pop boom of 1999-2001 (and, if the first week sales of Celebrity are any indication, it will extend even longer).
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine