Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
JUSTIN Timberlake’s return isn’t a million miles removed from the musical style that helped him to music super-stardom in the first place.
A reunion between the singer and FutureSex/Lovesounds producer Timbaland, The 20/20 Experience has that same slick fusion of hip-hop inflicted smooth groove R’n‘B and falsetto vocals.
But it’s also, perhaps, a more mature experience, embellished as it is by cinematic string arrangements (befitting Timberlake’s recent time spent making movies), as well as vocal samples flying in and out (the most notable of which arguably comes from Jay-Z).
It’s therefore a comeback (of sorts) that mixes the familiar with some nice additions and is a consistently satisfying experience that feels as though it’s rewarding the singer’s music fans for their patience in allowing him the time away from music-making.
The album clocks in at an epic hour and 10 minutes and no song feels short. But there’s so much going on throughout that you don’t seem to mind the indulgence too much, particularly if you’ve previously been a fan.
The highlights, for me, include the times when Timberlake brings edge to the smooth groove sex appeal and darkens up the tone with more aggressive beat arrangements, that drift more into harder hitting hip-hop territory.
Hence, Don’t Hold The Wall with its tribal chants and many vocal samples is a real ass-kicker of a tune… busy, edgy, dark and sexy. It’s when Timbaland’s credentials really shine through more than Timberlake’s, making him sound as vital as he’s arguably ever sounded.
Let The Groove Get In, meanwhile, embraces African and Samba rhythms and has an infectious energy about it that seems tailor-made for Timerblake to broaden his vocals and go for a tougher tone. The brass stabs lend the track a carnival feel that make it impossible for the groove not to get in.
One suspects, though, that Timberlake himself is more comfortable when existing in loved up smooth groove territory as these tracks dominate. Strawberry Bubblegum and Spaceship Coupe, for instance, are just playful musings on falling in love.
The former finds him intoxicated, complete with smitten lyrics such as “she’s just like nothing that I’ve ever seen before”, while the latter talks about being lost in space and seems to be channelling Prince (especially in its use of guitar solo) and R Kelly. As free-spirited and chirpy as both songs are, though, they’re probably the sound of the album at its least compelling.
That said, when he gets that style right it can be equally pleasurable to hear. That Girl, for instance, has the type of chorus that’s made for singing along to and is toe-tappingly giddy, complete with fun brass interludes and a slick soul vibe.
While former lead single Suit & Tie is continually evolving and pleasantly surprising, waiting for seemingly ages to introduce Jay-Z and tip it into hip-hop territory. Prior to that, it’s a fun fusion of R’n‘B and soul that’s footloose and fancy free and almost Michael Jackson like, circa Off The Wall.
Album opener Pusher Love Girl is also a great start, opening with a romantic string section that, again, sounds utterly cinematic, before establishing the neo-soul meets hip-hop format.
Mirrors, meanwhile, is just a simply great record… a feel-good fusion of beats and melodies that make you feel as good as Timberlake obviously feels about himself at the moment. It soars and is another album highpoint.
Blue Ocean Floor then rounds things off with a surprisingly laidback offering, as though easing the listener into a supremely relaxed state of consciousness. It’s only partially successful but it does have a serenity about it that’s soothing.
Put together, The 20/20 Experience is a slick, smooth, comfortable listen that is, for the most part, utterly infectious and engaging.
*Download picks: Pusher Love Girl, Don’t Hold The Wall, That Girl, Let The Groove Get In, Mirrors