It’s been impossible to play another record since Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience started streaming on iTunes last week, a full seven days prior to its official release. Its infectious infusion of the best of pop, soul and R&B is like the bait on the end of a fishing rod. You sniff around it for a bit before eventually deciding that you want the soulful nourishment. Then, before you know it, you’re hooked with no escape route in sight, but you’re too busy taking in the way the album chronicles the highs and lows of falling in love to care.
For 10 tracks, JT gives his all through an ode directed towards the two seemingly most important people in his life: wife Jessica Biel and Timbaland. Instead of the songs’ seven minute average boring the microwave generation used to 140 characters and being “on to the next” within two minutes, the lengthy songs compact two varied sounds without straying into the territory of a mashup that sounds like two different tracks. “Pusher Love Girl,” which likens his love to a junkie’s obsession with drugs, masterfully embodies a bluesy symphony without invoking actual blues. While the first half focuses on the soft melodies the ending hones in on the bass making it more hip-pop.
Like its lead single “Suit and Tie” indicated, JT makes two-step music. The entire album is dance appropriate, but it’s “Don’t Hold the Wall” and “Let the Groove In” that are the obvious dance floor grooves, the former relying heavily on its Indian inspiration and the latter pulsating Soca. Both balance out the album as a whole project but are the weakest of the bunch. Speaking of weak, one would expect a cliche such as “Strawberry Bubblegum” to fall flat. His smooth falsettos coupled with light synths make it almost cute to hear a grown man referring to a grown woman as his strawberry bubblegum. With its blaring horns, envisioning the southern bred singer howl “Strawberry Bubblegum” on stage at a small juke joint on Bill Street is not far fetched.
“Mirrors” and “Blue Ocean Floor” may appease the critics who lambast 20/20 for its lack of depth. It’s true. He is no Frank Ocean when it comes to songwriting, and there’s absolutely no need for him to be. One of the album’s greatest songs “Spaceship Coupe” rambles on about galaxies and milky way. Who cares, though? It sounds great. It feels good. You don’t turn to JT expecting Mozart.
Where FutureSex/LoveSounds solidified Justin’s place in pop music in 2006 as a conglomerate of various genres, nearly seven years later 20/20 is more futuristic. Its production and merging of longer-form tracks take us on a direction music is heading in years to come. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose that spark for the confirmed second volume of The 20/20 Experience on the way later this year. Aiding in its next lifetime sound credit must be given to the incomparable super-producer, Timbaland. Their chemistry has always been magical, but for this record Timbaland pulled out the bells and whistles, proving he was indeed back. From bluesy horns to electronic synths to Soca drums there wasn’t an instrumentation Timb didn’t nail. His production, in all its glory, is the best thing about the album.
Unlike music critics who’ve come to a consensus Justin’s nearly flawless record is a movie (originating from JT’s friend who commented, “It’s music you can see”) we’re not classifying it in that same vein. It’s perfectly ok for it to just be an album you want to make love to over and over and over again, one whose future includes an infinite shelf life.