03/27/2000 at 01:00 AM EST
Album of the week
With that winking title, *NSYNC pokes fun at the charge—in some cases well-founded—that teen pop groups are little more than good-looking puppets who allow themselves to be manipulated by studio Svengalis. With No Strings, the band with the annoyingly spelled name is saying, "Not us." With the multi-platinum success of their self-titled 1998 debut album, the five heartthrob harmonizers have earned the right to make that case. On this, their third CD (counting a 1998 Christmas album), the Orlando-based group pumps up the volume and the intensity, working with a posse of different producers, among them veteran Teddy Riley (who reworks Johnny Kemp's 1988 hit "Just Got Paid") and guest Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC. The result is a more hard-edged, hip-hop flavored and dance-inducing sound that percolates with caffeinated beats and herky-jerky rhythms. The boys—Lance Bass, Joey Fatone Jr., JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick and Justin Timberlake
—wisely chose "Bye, Bye, Bye," the scorching track that kicks off the album, as their first single. A thumping, love 'em-and-dump 'em tune that showcases their new sound and tougher attitude, it also leaves listeners wanting more. But "Bye" is as good as it gets. The lads do demonstrate that they have 'tude to burn and voices that are pleasant to the ear. But what is sorely missing is another great song that would signal that *NSYNC does indeed aim to be more than just a bunch of cute guys with great moves. Noisy and playful, No Strings Attached is good escapist fun, but it lacks a purpose beyond making hordes of screaming girls very happy. There are worse fates.
Bottom Line: Boys spring a surprise