Making pop music is a tricky business, especially these days when just about any sound -- from Southern rap to garage rock to dancehall reggae -- can pass for pop as long as it sells. Certainly, JC Chasez has had a lot of practice in this arena, studying under -- and nabbing the occasional lead vocal from -- undeniable alpha frontman Justin Timberlake back when 'N Sync were exactly what the kids were into. But the boy-band thing has gone cold, and the pop landscape is broadening to include the OutKasts and the Norah Joneses of the world. With so many ways to get paid, how does a young, suddenly solo crooner even choose a direction? Timberlake simply lent the reins to pricey, proven producers Timbaland and the Neptunes and followed them down the hip-hop R&B road to Hitsville. Chasez, for his part, is walking a relatively riskier path.
By calling his debut Schizophrenic, Chasez lets potential naysayers know from jump: This album is all over the place ON PURPOSE. But his titular preemptive strike is a tad misguided. After all, it's not ''Schizophrenic'''s eclecticism that is so alarming. It's the disc's familiarity in spite of that eclecticism. ''Some Girls (Dance With Women),'' the first single, is easily a third- or fourth-generation knockoff of the hand-clap-happy Diwali rhythm made famous by Sean Paul's ''Get Busy'' and Lumidee's ''Never Leave You.'' Though you can't blame Riprock 'n' Alex G, the CD's primary producers, for biting the beat bait (who didn't want a piece of that action?), the song never gets off the ground.
The pan-musical pilfering continues throughout, from the ''Thriller''-era Jacko-pop of ''She Got Me'' to the Kravitz-worthy guitar fuzz of ''If You Were My Girl.'' During ''Schizophrenic'''s most unfortunate moments, Chasez awkwardly jams his own meaty voice into some preestablished mold, resulting in the faux-Sting chorus of ''Everything You Want'' or the New Order-ish affectation of ''All Day Long.'' But while few of these sonic revisitations are as soulless as ''Shake It,'' which desecrates the remains of ''Do It Til You're Satisfied,'' several are bona fide catchy, even with their influences peeking through like panty lines. But the cuts that are truly refreshing (the synth-reggae skank ''Mercy'' and the warped-tone ballad ''Build My World'') are the ones that don't -- or at least don't immediately -- call to mind other, better songs lodged in the back of the average music fan's skull.
Ultimately, the problem with his multireferencing approach is that a subconscious game of Name That Tune kicks in at track 1, and by the time you've racked your brain over whether that's Eurythmics' or Corey Hart's sawtooth bass line sampled on track 11, ''Come to Me,'' it's damn near driven you crazy.
It's Corey Hart, by the way. ''Sunglasses at Night,'' no less. And it's mighty distracting... unless, say, you were born in 1990, you much prefer MTV to VH1, and right now you're thinking ''Corey who?'' Long live pop music.