Justin Timberlake last released an album in 2006 and hasn’t released any new solo material since his last single in 2007. Since then he seemingly retired from music making a few guest spots on other artist’s tracks and focused his attention on his budding actor career. 6 years on he’s finally made his long-awaited return to music and it seems that his fans are as excited about him now as they were when he ruled the charts in the mid-noughties. Lead single Suit & Tie marked a change of direction for the singer with many noting that his sound was closer to that of Robin Thicke’s than the sound we’ve come to expect from him.
The 20/20 Experience is clearly a creative project that Timberlake holds close to his heart. The standard edition of the album features 10 tracks but runs for 70 minutes in length whilst the deluxe edition contains 12 tracks with a run time of almost 80 minutes. Obviously that means each of the songs is fairly lengthy which seems to have caused complaint from some critics and fans. Need we remind you that the majority of last album Futuresex/Lovesounds contained some fairly lengthy tracks too with most tracks clocking in between five to seven minutes in length?
For this record Timberlake has been back in the studio with Timbaland and J-Roc who he has produced the entire album with. All the Timbaland trademarks are there from the off-kilter beats to the vocal loops and beatboxing. After a few listens you realise that The 20/20 Experience is a mash-up of 2002’s Justified and 2006’s Futuresex/Lovesounds. Sonically it sits somewhere between the two with little really in the way of huge progression. Whilst that sounds like a criticism it isn’t because this middle-ground seems to really work for Timberlake.
We’re going to be honest and say we didn’t love Suit & Tie. It’s grown on us but it still sounds like an imitation of Robin Thicke to us and it’s not Timberlake enough for our liking. Second single, and number one smash, Mirrors on the other hand is more what we’re in the market for. The single draws comparisons with classic JT hit Cry Me A River but lyrically it’s a whole different ballgame. The bitterness of Cry Me A River is replaced with hope as Timberlake declares ‘the vacancy in my heart, is a space that now you hold.’ Whilst it may not be the most original in terms of production, it’s still a song that sits alongside Timberlake’s finest.
It seems for The 20/20 Experience that Timberlake wants to pay homage to the greats including Prince, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. The instrumentation is lush, the songs are more soulful than previous work and there’s less emphasis on the performance aspect of the Timberlake of old. We don’t imagine on his upcoming tour that he’s going to be dancing his socks off like he used to and recent performances confirm this suspicion as he’s channelling a more soulful, band-feel. The album eases you in slowly with Pusher Love Girl, a song filled with harmonies and soul. Does it jump out and scream hit single like previous album openers Sexy Back and Senorita did? No it doesn’t but what it does do is reintroduce you to Timberlake’s impressive range whilst establishing that now he’s a bit older his music has evolved too whilst still retaining the elements that we love about him.
Another criticism we’ve seen levelled at the album is that there are no singles. That simply isn’t true. Obviously the tracks would need to be edited into a single version, something that is commonplace in the industry, but the beat-heavy Don’t Hold The Wall is a strong candidate as is the party-feel of Let The Groove Get In. Our favourite moment is the intrusive beats of Tunnel Vision which sees Timberlake comfortable in his lower register for the majority of the song. Timbaland’s beats have always been a match made in heaven for Timberlake and this track is one of the finest cuts on the record.
Elsewhere on the record Timberlake takes things into the bedroom for the sensual Spaceship Coupe, goes a little Motown-lite on That Girl and throws you off guard with the dream-like closing track Blue Ocean Floor. The only track that feels a little like filler is Strawberry Bubblegum. The mid-tempo groove and electro-bleeps don’t grab you but they aren’t bad either. We felt a little neither here nor there about the track.
The deluxe edition contains additional tracks Dress On and Body Count. Dress On has a crunchy electro-beat and finds Timberlake channelling his inner Michael Jackson, whilst Body Count should have made it onto the main tracklisting. The track is like a modern take on Like I Love You and is one of the strongest songs on the record.
The 20/20 Experience requires a few listens at a high volume to fully appreciate. Yes it may not be the most original record you’ve ever heard but it’s undeniably infectious and addictive. We hope that Timberlake doesn’t completely disregard his old performance style and we’d prefer him to steer clear of songs like Suit & Tie. He’s too good an artist to be borrowing other artist’s sound and style. Rumours suggest that a second album (The 20/20 Experience Part II?) will be released in the autumn giving fans another 10 tracks and thus completing The 20/20 Experience. We can’t wait!