Album review: Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 experience

Album review: Justin Timberlake - The 20 / 20 experience | Random J pop

Nobody loves a muse quite like Justin Timberlake. Most draw inspiration from muses. But Justin straight up sleeps with the music of his muses and crawls inside a bitch. Justified saw Justin playing the white born Michael Jackson. FutureSex/LoveSounds saw Justin stroking Prince's weave through a lavender curtain. And his third effort The 20 / 20 experience should be throwing a royalty check and platinum braid beads to Stevie Wonder. His aural influence on this album isn't as obvious as the aforementioned. But it's there. The shade slight irony that Justin went and named the album around vision when a n***a is blind. What Justin manages to do here though is throw a few of extra flavours into Stevie's pitcher of cool-aid by pulling from era's which jump between the 60's, 80's and late 90's. So essentially what we get here is an album which is pretty much what you would expect from Justin following on from Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds. But again, this isn't immediately obvious. It just...is.

The 20 / 20 experience draws more on the soulful and organic sounds of Justified than the electro driven FutureSex/LoveSounds and is much more consistent for it. The conscious effort for Justin's album to be seen as avant garde is still there, it's just more organic in its approach. Although it comes at the risk of not featuring a song which is as instantly memorable and pop referential as "SexyBack", "My love" or "Summer love". And also comes at the risk of being his least memorable album as a whole.

Whilst The 20/20 experience is produced to near perfection and doesn't feature a single flat out terrible song, very few songs stick long after you've listened to them. There is no one song on this album which will reside within your subconscious and refuse to leave in the same way "Like I love you", "Cry me a river", "Rock your body" or "SexyBack" have done. In terms of musical integrity, the album is as solid as Justin's work has ever been. But in a sound-scape so focused on byte sized, easily tangible songs, The 20/20 experience's 8 minute track lengths, soft punching hooks may go over a lot of heads. This isn't to say the album isn't good. Aurually it's a treat which jumps around definable era's within music.

"Pusher love girl", "Suit & tie" and "That girl" are throwbacks to 60's Motown. "Suit & tie" ranks as one of the albums' worst offerings. But "Pusher love girl" is wonderfully soulful and serves up one of Timbaland's most stanky and richly produced soul cuts since Brandy's "Where is she 2 U". "That girl" feels like a watered down version of "Pusher love girl" to the point that I don't see the point in it. It's not a shit song - it just feels redundant when "Pusher love girl" is everything this song is in a bigger and better form.

The era of funk is visited for "Let the groove get in" - which sees Justin reach for Gloria Estefan's wig for the first 5 minutes of the song and then dance on Michael Jackson's for the last 2. It's nice to hear a song which embeds the hot blooded Latin / Havana pop style faithfully without putting an electro, bastardized spin on it; even if the song in the long run is wholly forgettable.

The seductiveness of the 80's comes through with "Strawberry bubblegum". If I were to describe this song in 2 words they'd be 'fucking magic'. Sharp drums, ethereal synths, smooth vocals and cluster of channel hopping Hey's make this song the smoothest on the album and rank it as near perfection. Even the awful lyrics aren't enough to detract from the magic of this song. And just when my inner 80's child is getting it in with the shuffle and the running man, the song switches into 3 minutes of what sounds like a lost interlude from Songs in the key of life. The power balladry of the 80's comes in the form of "Mirrors", which wreaks of "Cry me a river" and "What goes around (Comes around)" - but without the soul torn lyrics . It's overly sappy lyrically, but the production is nice. It should have closed the album and would have done so perfectly if it weren't for the Coldplay / Sigur Rós rip off "Blue ocean floor". Ethereally beautiful, but out of place and too consciously trying to prove a point.

Sounds of the 00's come through with "Don't hall the wall", bringing back the Arabian chants and Indian percussion which Timbaland was trotting out with regularity at the turn of the century on the cusp of the Desi boom. "Don't hold the wall" is Justin's 2013 equivalent of Justified's "Oh no (What you got)" in a much more slower and seductive form. The song speeds up towards the end ditching the Middle eastern vibes for a much more harder edged bounce which is a complete Ctrl + C job of Timbaland's mobile underground remix of Madonna's "4 minutes". "Tunnel vision" is throwback Timbo, as he hearkens back to his signature sound which made Ginuwine, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott and Timbaland himself an oft mentioned name within Hip-hop and R&B. Timbo was veering so far from his classic sound that a n***a couldn't see it in the rear view and baby girl was turning in her grave. So it's nice to know Timbaland remembers it, that he can still pull it off, whilst also showcasing that his classic sound is timeless and undefinable.

Timbaland's output between 2006 and 2012 has been an utter mess. Turning in productions which were far from exhibiting the genius we'd witnessed from the late 90's up until the release of FutureSex/LoveSounds. Whilst The 20 / 20 experience will restore faith in those who felt Timbaland had lost it, his work here is very safe, calculated and wholly self referential. You can hear a conscious effort was made to be overly careful and every Timbo trick and cliché is thrown into this album. It makes for solid and consistent set, but it's not fresh and it's far from new.

The 20 / 20 experience is a nice listen. But once you begin to strip away the sonics of Timbo and co., you realize that the lyrics to some of the songs aren't that great. In fact, they are flat out awful. The hooks and refrains are catchy enough. But the verses languish and feel as though Justin is just buying time with elementary rhymes until the chorus. The song topics begin to wane after so long because this entire album is essentially 9 tracks about falling in love and 2 about dancing. It's nice that Justin is so in love and is no longer singing out the emotional scars of his relationship with Britney, but at age 32 and having enjoyed the life of a successful boy band member, a pretty successful actor and now a married man, Justin should be saying a heck of a lot more than 'I love you. You are amazing. C'mon girl, let's dance'. The musical soundscape of each of these endeavours is varied save for the coupling of "Pusher love girl" and "That girl". But lyrically Justin is singing about the same thing with different metaphors. He likens love to a drug. He likens his better half to looking in a mirror. He likens sex to flying in a spaceship. He refers to pussy as bubble gum and his dick as a lollipop. He likens finding his perfect girl to shooting on a film set. The list sounds much more creative and varied when jotted down than it is when you are listening to the songs. This also isn't helped by the song lengths. FutureSex/LoveSounds saw Justin occasionally clock songs in at 7 to 8 minutes, but here he does the same on near enough every track. Where his predecessors 8 minute tracks were essentially 2 different songs musically, here every track is an extended mix with some outstaying their welcomes. On some songs you relish in the extended length and get sucked into the vibe. Where-as on others you become glaringly aware that the song should have ended 2 minutes ago and that n***a's were on that copy and paste. But its a pretty cool compromise for the (regular edition of the) album only featuring 10 songs.

The 20 / 20 experience on one hand feels as though it's trying to hard, whilst on the other hand feels as though it's not trying hard enough. The production is pin-pointed to perfection and Justin had a clear focus with this album. But that sense of spontaneity and freshness you got with Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds just isn't here.

Still... Justin goes a long ways to prove that nothing he's done up to this point is a fluke and with a 15+ year career and 3 successful solo albums under his belt, he's already exceeded the career sell by date we'd stamped on him when he was rolling underneath shutters and running from dogs in "Bye bye bye". 

*Throws a copy of The 20/20 experience at Usher* N***a, you should be ashamed of yo'self.



Album highlights:
■ Pusher love girl
■ Don't hold the wall
■ Strawberry bubblegum ★ J's fave
■ Tunnel vision
■ Mirrors

9 comments:

  1. I still haven't given this album a good listen. I find that I have to listen to an album several times before I can truly appreciate it, provided that it's not out right trash. I never liked Suit and Tie from the get go, and besides Pusher Love Girl and Strawberry Bubblegum, nothing has really grabbed my attention.

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  2. I love "Mirrors", and "Suit and Tie" is alright minus the intro and rap. I'll give the rest of the album a listen and see what I think.

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    1. "Suit and tie" is a straight skip for me. It's the weakest song on the whole album. So if you like that, you'll probably be on board with the rest of the material. I think you'll like "Pusher love girl".

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  3. Great review as always, J. I agree that it's a solid album throughout with no glaring spots!

    I have to say my favorite song actually is "Tunnel Vision". That beat is just fantastic, along with "Don't Hold the Wall"; Timbaland made his mark on this album!

    And I have to say my least favorite song is your fave, J, "Strawberry Bubblegum", BECAUSE of the lyrics. I mean, production can only go so far for me. If the lyrics weren't so awful, and at least a little more playful-sounding like "Tunnel Vision" or "Pusher Love Girl", I probably would've overlooked it like you did and called it a favorite, too.

    By the way, there is one part of this review I can't help but fully agree on: this album REALLY feels like he's trying too hard. He doesn't need to. Neither does Timbaland. The hype enough could've just kept the songs at a healthy length, and could've got rid of some of those unneeded "interludes" that just makes you turn to the next song before you can even get a proper play count on iTunes.

    Again, J, great review. :D

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  4. I'm not gonna judge the music because I haven't listened to much of it, at least not more than a couple samples here and there. And that's where I'm headed actually, because I won't be listening to it in full.

    There was a MAJOR flaw in not packing this album with two or three hits. Without those moments I feel like I don't want to listen to an album full of technically correct but complete fluff and filler music; and I don't think very many other people do either.

    The only reason it hit number one at any point in time is because of the face and letters 'JT' on the front. This album released by anyone else would have gone unnoticed. In fact, I haven't even heard a single song from this album on the radio even ONCE.

    It obviously did well, but could have done much better with a couple actual interesting, accessible songs.

    There's a part II coming so maybe it'll contain all the pizazz this album lacked.

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  5. I enjoy the album it not my favorite JT album but enjoyable I love strawberry bubblegum and Let the groove get in

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  6. I'm currently sprung off of Kyary Pussy Pamyu and love Perfume. So you could say I have a thing for hot production and nonsense lyrics *lol*

    "Tunnel vision" is hotness. But the lyrics and Justin's dead delivery bring the song down. It's also one song which didn't need to be over 5 minutes. The beat is still a beast though and I still play it. But I find myself playing it less and less as time goes on despite me going crazy over it the first time I heard it. It's not the kind of song I could play continuously non-stop, but is definitely a song I could imagine myself going back to and falling for all over again every few months or so of having not heard it for a while.

    I just love the vibe of "Strawberry bubblegum". And as shit as the lyrics are, the production is super slick and the vocal production is so ON pin-point. The way JT rides that beat and drops the harmonies are what set the whole song off for me. Everything on all other fronts are so solid that the song manages to keep itself afloat, even with the lyrics trying to anchor the shit down.

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  7. "Suit & tie" is the weakest song on the album. So if you like that, you'll probably like the rest. I think you'll like "Pusher love girl" in particular.

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