With “the 20/20 Experience” dropping today, Dustin goes through the album.
Let’s get this out now; “The 20/20 Experience,” Justin Timberlake’s musical comeback, is absolutely fantastic. Once again employing Timbaland to produce, the duo conjures up a solid blend of old soul, R & B, pop and funk.
Much has been made about the length of the songs and the thought that Timberlake was a little too pretentious and full of himself musically has been referenced more than once. However, unlike “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” “20/20” is far more substance than style and takes a few listens to fully uncover the layers of each song.
- Pusher Love Girl- Timberlake kicks off the album with an extended “girl’s love like a drug dealer” metaphor. A simple drum carries the majority of the beat while a smooth string section sets the mood for the old soul themes that make up a majority of the beats.
- Suit & Tie(feat. Jay-Z)- The album’s first single sent mixed reviews through critics and fans but shot straight to the top of radio rotations and digital sales. It’s easily one of the top songs on the album with a smooth croon from JT, an unexpected but solid verse from the Jigga Man and a bare-bones beat that picks up for the chorus’ but is restrained enough to put the attention more on Timberlake’s voice instead of overpowering it.
- Don’t Hold the Wall- “Is this Timberlake’s take on music of the world?”- Cameron as we listened to the album. That sums this track up pretty concisely, it’s got a tribal drumbeat, exotic chanting background vocals and a chorus made up of a computer processed voice demanding listeners “Dance, Don’t Hold the Wall.” The odd part is while all this sounds a bit odd to combine, the execution is done well and holds your attention the entire time.
- Strawberry Bubblegum- A more computer-y beat with snaps that sound like popping bubblegum accentuates the song, along with that computer processed Timbaland voice. The song itself is vintage JT, his falsetto on full display in a message to his love, whom he affectionately calls Strawberry Bubblegum. Timberlake has never really been known for his lyrics and he likely won’t gain much praise for them on this song as it focuses mainly on cutesy things and the repetition of the phrase “My little Strawberry Bubblegum.” The beat keeps it interesting but it’s the first time in the album that you feel a little lag.
- Tunnel Vision- Bouncing back from the last track, “Tunnel Vision” starts with a child’s voice saying “I Know You Like Me.” It kicks into a solid R&B beat that wouldn’t be out of place on “FutureSex/LoveSounds” as JT sings of only being able to see the woman he loves. Lyrically it’s one of the strongest on the album, but the beat largely remains the same the entire time, which can get a little monotonous.
- Spaceship Coupe- I have no idea what this song is about, but it’s got (and I hate to use this term) a swagger to it that seems in line with JT’s persona. This is one of the best songs on the album and I have no idea what it could possibly be about or what he’s even talking about. Proof that a good voice and amazing production/beat work is where it all starts. Fundamentals kids. Fundamentals.
- That Girl- A quick introduction tells us the song we’re about to hear is by “JT and the Tennessee Kids” and the old soul influence has never been more prominent and is not executed better. My personal choice for best song on the album, it focuses on Timberlake declaring that no matter what people say, he’s not going to stop loving his girl. It’s one of the shorter songs on the album (take that with a grain of salt, it’s still 6 minutes) but it’s jam packed with classic hooks, a singalong chorus and feels like it could’ve been played in 50’s clubs.
- Let the Groove In- Remember the style in Track 3? The “Music of the world” one? Well that’s back, with a rolling drum beat and chant intro, the song swells and swells before eventually breaking into a soaring refrain. This song is largely reminiscent of the song “Conga” by Gloria Estefan in terms of how the beat is punctuated by a sharp brass section, but oddly enough, it works.
- Mirrors- The second single and when I first heard it, I thought it sounded a little too much like Timberlake just going back to his first album and rehashing ideas, but within the context of the album, the song benefits tremendously. It’s a high point with the pure pop beat and while it does bring back memories of “Cry Me a River,” it does so in a nostalgic way that seems to be Timberlake moving on as opposed to revisiting and recycling old ideas.
- Blue Ocean Floor- “Here’s the song for the indie fans/His take on Radiohead.”- Once again, Cameron as we listened to the album. The intro is very Grizzly Bear sounding alongside an effect of a wave crashing on the shore over a soft string section and piano. We were shocked to realize that this was the last song on the album but in retrospect, it’s a strong ballad that ends the album on an emotional high. Once again, he’s singing to his love (one can only assume new wife Jessica Biel) but the sincerity of his delivery is what really sells the song. The album comes to a close with a delicate string section that could be in the end credits of classic Hollywood films.
While not perfect, Justin Timberlake has crafted an album that brings his influences (50’s soul, 90’s R&B and pop) to his audience while fusing it with what fans have come to expect. With only a few missteps along the way, Timberlake remains just as musically relevant as ever before.
Two Quick Notes:
- Timberlake confirmed at his release party that there will in fact be a “20/20 Experience” Part 2 released sometime this year. He didn’t mention a release date but reportedly it should be out sometime before the end of the year.
- Target has an exclusive edition of the “20/20 Experience” and it contains 2 bonus tracks, “Dress On” and “Body Count.” Both songs are good, but in comparison to the rest of the album, the songs don’t fit too well and it’s easy to see why they were relegated to the deluxe edition.
Dustin Brewer is co-creator of HefferBrew. He’s not sure when he became a fan of JT but between the solid album and his appearances on SNL and Jimmy Fallon, he’s cool with it. Stay tuned to HefferBrew.com or follow us on Twitter @HefferBrew.