Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
Release Date: 19 March 2013
Label: RCA Records
- Pusher Love Girl
- Suit & Tie (feat. Jay-Z) [MV, Lyric Video]
- Don’t Hold The Wall
- Strawberry Bubblegum
- Tunnel Vision [MV]
- Spaceship Coupe
- That Girl
- Let The Groove Get In
- Mirrors [MV]
- Blue Ocean Floor
- Dress On (Deluxe Edition)
- Body Count (Deluxe Edition)
Having dedicated his time and energy to Hollywood, there was a resoundingly large group of people wondering when Justin Timberlake would start making music once again. Lo and behold, he comes back seven years after his international hit Futuresex/Lovesounds, and the response is explosive — the album sold over 850,000 units in its first week.
The 20/20 Experience is most certainly not what anyone could’ve predicted from Justin Timberlake. Track Pusher Love Girl — a song I seriously listened to for about 45 minutes — opens the album with lush sounds and exceptional composition. What follows is a mixture of simple pop (That Girl, Let The Groove Get In) and more expansive and intelligent soundscapes (Don’t Hold The Wall, Blue Ocean Floor, Dress On). There’s a high level of class, music that’s nuanced and intricately rendered. Unless one were paying close attention to the shift taking place in R&B for the last five years or so, it’s most certainly not a route many could’ve easily expected.
Honestly, much of the hype surrounding the album — proclamations of Justin Timberlake’s supposed innovation — isn’t necessarily warranted. Artists have been creating magic with as much, at times more, creativity, with very similar sounds for the past decade and a half (the likes of Britain’s Jamiroquai and Lewis Taylor, locally and more recently Miguel, Janelle Monae, KING, and hip-hop/R&B contingent of Odd Future — which includes vocalist Frank Ocean). But Timberlake’s name and absence from music give him an obvious advantage in terms of visibility and established mainstream audience.
However, overexcitement doesn’t detract from the fact that sonically this is a very well-crafted, unexpected offering for the pop star. It’s clear in his seven-year absence he’s studied the pop scene and seen it was attempting to head in a more esoteric direction. He also realized early on he’d found a brilliant producer in Timbaland. As world-class as he is, Timbaland is always on the lookout for sounds that expand the musical vernacular. It’s fitting he’d share his discoveries with his biggest selling collaborator.
When we get past the stellar production, we must focus on the vocals and the lyrics that voice wraps around. Timberlake’s voice hasn’t changed much. There’s nothing exceptionally nuanced or more mature than what he offered us seven years ago. He’s most certainly not the first “blue-eyed crooner” to make great music — artists like Remy Shand, the aforementioned Lewis Taylor, and Robin Thicke, whose voices are fuller and hold a level of maturity I’ve always found lacking in Timberlake’s.
His lyrics aren’t dissimilar to anything else being written. They’re indeed good compositions, but they’re by no means singular or unprecedented. His writing style has matured as one would expect with continued experience in life; however, he writes about the same things he’s always written about. When put up against other singers who are also songwriters, he’s most certainly not out of place, but he hasn’t separated himself from his peers with anything more innovative or experimental.
The 20/20 Experience is most certainly what it proclaims to be — a sharp and perfectly clear look at the path mainstream R&B has taken lately. There’s absolutely no mistaking the brilliance of the piece for anything other than just that. However, the landscape of music in the past five years just shows how incredibly savvy Timberlake is at noticing trends and replicating.