The 20/20 Experience
Going into my first listen of The 20/20 Experience my expectations were high, but also slightly tempered. Justin Timberlake hasn’t released an album in seven years, instead choosing to focus on his acting career. Maybe after stinkers like In Time, Yogi Bear (assuming), and Trouble With The Curve (again assuming), JT thought it would be prudent to turn his focus back to music. He could not have been more right. With R&B coming more to the forefront of the music landscape last year on the backs of Frank Ocean and Miguel, it was time for Timberlake to reassert his dominance in this particular arena.
Dominance can be considered asserted. What we have in The 20/20 Experience is a masterclass lesson in what it means to be a star. Building even more on some of the longer-form building compositions he and Timbaland gave us on FutureSex/LoveSounds, JT rarely comes in with entries under five minutes on his latest offering. From the opening bars of “Pusher Love Girl” it is clear JT is not leaving anything on the table. Almost every track “reboots” at some point, changing into something completely different from where it started. These are not just club-friendly pop songs, not that many won’t feel right at home in the club, but JT and Timbaland have done so much more, pushing pop music to its very limits.
My only complaint is that a couple of the extrapolations towards the end of songs can be just slightly long in the tooth. But overall that is my favorite part of the album, making The 20/20 Experience hands down my favorite album of 2013 to date. Get up in it.
Let me first say that like Austin, I absolutely love The 20/20 Experience and I think not just by pop standards. It’s the best thing JT has done and one of the best thus far this year. Timbaland shines like it was 2006 with one of his best produced songs today in “Don’t Hold The Wall” and also a razor sharp R&B song in “Tunnelvision”. “Blue Ocean Floor” is literally a Local Natives song and I’m not sure whether that’s a diss to Local Natives’ last album or a compliment to JT. But I’d like to use my portion to mostly address the haters of The 20/20 Experience. The two main complaints I hear are: 1) the songs are too long and 2) Justin Timberlake doesn’t really say anything.
I would understand the complaint of the songs – more specifically the outros – being too long if they didn’t change so much. Obviously it’s opinion, but I think on songs like “Spaceship Coupe” and “Pusher Love Girl”, the outro might actually be better than the main core of the song. Those involved in making these big long pop pieces were also smart enough to make a pretty clear cut off moment on each of these songs around the 4 minute mark where these could easily be radio edited singles. Together, the long songs flow together beautifully to make a wonderful pop/R&B collage. As for the second point, why should Justin Timberlake have to make some sort of lyrical statement with his music? Who cares that these are essentially empty love songs? Who is listening to Justin Timberlake for that reason? Certainly not me, and my guess is you are’t either. Let The 20/20 Experience be what it is: an insanely fun pop album.
Overall, this is quite a tough album to split hairs on. It is a fun infested free for all that is masterfully produced and seemingly sang by an angel. However, it is not without its minor flaws. First and foremost, it contains one track that is a complete headache. If you’ve listened to the album and are not from Central America then I’m sure you probably know what I am talking about and also probably agree. “Let the Groove Get In” is a repetitive mess of the sounds of salsa
and fairly annoying lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I am a cultured man, and I would perhaps enjoy this hip-shaker after a few margarita’s on an exotic beach somewhere. That being said, this song exists in a bout one million other forms already in this world and I just don’t see any rhyme or reason in JT cramming it onto what would otherwise be a near perfect album.
My other complaint, which I admit beforehand is an almost unfair standard to judge a pop album on, comes from the roots of me being an “album man”. Justin is great at what he does, which is creating songs. Having this mind-set doesn’t always mean these songs are going to fit together like a puzzle on an album though. By this I mean that the album seems to float around and drift about without any one feel, thought, or sound. To Wes’ point, I could care less about lyrics revolving around strawberry bubblegum because at the end of the day that song is a blast to listen to and makes me want to shag like I’m Austin Powers. My problem is the fact that the album is so all over the place that it makes it hard to want to listen to the whole thing all the time. Rather I am in the mood for some songs there and others here, which will cause me to skip tracks here and there. It’s hard to be in the same mood for jazzy R&B, poppy music, and world music all at once. All that to say, I also highly commend the man for being able to pull of every fashion of music as well as he does. Almost every song on the album (other than the headache) is phenomenal. “Pusher Love Girl” could honestly be in contention for my favorite pop song since “I Want You Back” by Jackson 5.
Other than my nitpicking above, I find both Austin and Wes to be extremely on-point. I ask you to find me a modern day pop musician that has a better concept of song than JT. And Timbaland’s production could not be more air-tight. The term 20/20 is a perfect analogy to the precision of these two collaborating. To anyone who complains about the length of these songs I say don’t worry, I am sure the radio will butcher these brilliant tunes into a concise enough pill for you to swallow. In my opinion, a song cannot be too long if it never ceases being excellent. For the rest of you who like music, you’ll soon become a junkie for JT.
Austin’s Final Words:
I think Todd is a little harsh on “Let the Groove Get In”. It is kind of like a early 90’s Gloria Estefan joint. That’s right…”joint”. But beyond that, we all seem to agree The 20/20 Experience is either a very good pop album or a great pop album. Not much for me to nitpick with above, and we can’t wait for the second half of “the experience” to come out in the fall.
Aggregate Score: 9/11
Can’t Miss: “Pusher Love Girl”, “Don’t Hold The Wall”, “Tunnel Vision”, “Strawberry Bubblegum”
Can’t Hit: “Let the Groove Get In”