Verdict: 3.5 / 5
After a seven-year hiatus from music, dabbling in film and business ventures, pop sensation Justin Timberlake has returned to his first love with a neo soul-inspired third studio album labeled The 20/20 Experience. His glistening comeback marks the dawn of a new period in the matured singer’s life; marriage. Putting aside the flashing disco balls and dance floor anthems, listeners are treated to soulful, leisurely and loving slow dances instead. Timbaland, who is still beat boxing in the passenger seat, delivers punchy beats that are carefully matched to more expressive lyrics that touch on the topics of long-lasting commitment, devotion and, of course, sex. Despite the tepid reception of The 20/20 Experience, it offers welcomed artistic development, silky smooth vocals and beautifully detailed production.
Debuting at number one on the U.S. Billboard charts, the album’s first two singles, “Suit & Tie” and “Mirrors”, paves the way to more musical diversity from Timberlake’s previous works. Although there are a number of similarities between “Mirrors” and “Cry Me a River”, the beat boxing, tempo and tone, their subject matter couldn’t be further apart. At the end of the song when a robotic voice repeats “you are the love of my life” a whopping 35 times, it becomes clear that the boy band wonder has grown up and set his mind on more important themes. JT is no longer frustrated with love and bad relationships, instead he embraces marriage and then utters, “So now I say goodbye to the old me, so better gone.”
The album is mostly filled with slow to mid-tempo grooves much in the same vein as “Mirrors”. “Pusher Love Girl”, an ode to the intoxicating effects of love and sex, draws comparisons between love as a drug and drug dealers (pushers). “Cause now you got me hopped up on that Pusher love, So high I’m on the ceiling baby, You’re my drug. So gon’ be my dealer baby…” Like nearly every track on The 20/20 Experience, the track continues beyond the normal pop song radio-edit length. Inspired by Pink Floyd, Queen and the Beatles, the songs often take a detour and change direction half way through, making way to variant tempo and styles.
“Don’t Hold the Wall”, “Let the Groove Get in” and “Body Count” all contain tribal chants, drums and pseudo-Indian beats. They serve as the albums dance anthems and are aimed at those desperate for a taste of what FutureSex/LoveSounds offered. In actual fact, these three songs act as fillers rather than add any real value to the album.
“That Girl” is definitely the best track that The 20/20 Experience has to offer. With its mellow vocals, doo-wop background vocals, its heartwarming lyrics and terrific production, it embodies the soul of the album. “Strawberry Bubblegum”, “Spaceship Coupe” and “Dress On” follow suit and continue the sexy soulful tone of the album. It becomes clearer as you listen on that JT has been spending some time listening to Robin Thicke. Fortunately, he doesn’t simply rehash Thicke-inspired records, but does his own take (mostly thanks to Timbaland) on the ballads here.
Younger audiences might be bitterly disappointed with JT’s latest offering, but those mature enough to appreciate the subject matter will fall in love with The 20/20 Experience.