It's been over six years since the internationally renowned pop star Justin Timberlake released his world-wide critically acclaimed sophomore album FutureSex/LoveSounds. Since that time Timberlake has taken on the role as actor. In some cases he succeeded in films such as The Social Network and Trouble With The Curve. He also at times felt like a part-time cast on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ And with the amount of time that has gone by, it almost seemed as if all hope was lost for his return to bringing sexy back. But earlier this year, the world was shook up with not only the announcement of his first new single six years "Suit & Tie" which featured Jay Z, but a brand new full-length album: The 20/20 Experience.
But was the world ready for an older, wiser, more mature Justin Timberlake? A Justin Timberlake who is married to Jessica Biel and has a job as the “Creative Director” of Budweiser? A Justin Timberlake so far removed from the music scene that we still remember him as a member of ‘N SYNC and not a solo artist? How about a Justin Timberlake sporting a pompadour-esque hairdo?
Heading back into the studio with longtime producing partner Timbaland, co-producers Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon and Rob Knox, Timberlake set to make something that he loves. He stated in his return video “I don't want to put anything out that I feel is like something I don't love. You just don't get that every day. You have to wait for it.” Well he waited, and on his new album you can hear that he really did set out to make something much more attuned to who he is now rather than churning out pop hits all over again.
When the first single was dropped, there was an unbalanced response as to whether or not Justin Timberlake still had it. "Suit & Tie" was a throwback to old school days of soul a la James Brown. With its breezy production and full sounding band, it didn't consume your ears with big digital sexy beats and club banging drops. It may have taken a while to penetrate, but at some the groove did get in and took over. It was charming and safe. Soon after, we were introduced to the second single “Mirrors.” At an epic eight minutes, the emotional ballad coddles you and drives the blood in your veins to straight up hold hands with whomever is next to you and just sing along to its mighty chorus. And when the second half of the song is reached, you’ll be left with nothing other than tears showering your face. The song quite possibly alluded to his new found love in Biel.
Going into the rest of the album is an adventure in itself. Including both singles, at ten songs the whole album spans over an hour. Each and every song contains a personality so distinct, that unlike its predecessor, The 20/20 Experience really is an eye opening, or rather an ear opening experience. Instead of slathering two hands full of rnb and dance numbers, Timberlake sprinkled all sorts of flavors into his album. Tracks such as “Pusher Love Girl” (which contains some beautiful string arrangements by Benjamin F. Wright Jr. who has worked with Donny Hathaway, Michael Jackson, Otis Redding, The Temptations, and Barry White) and “That Girl” take you back to the good ole days of southern soul and R&B with the vintage sounding recordings including fancy brass sections. “Strawberry Bubblegum” also follows the R&B suit but heads into a much more futuristic direction and eventually leads back to something nostalgic in its second half. And as the name suggests, it’s as sweet as it sounds.
The other layers of the album contain a whole globe of sounds that magnifies the listener’s experience. “Don’t Hold The Wall” heads over to the Middle-East and let’s us know that he still likes to see hips shake ‘n vibrate and then break it down to the booming bass that ends the track. “Let The Groove In” takes us to Brazil and blasts us with a Samba-induced dance number. He describes it as “if The Jackson 5 went to Brazil” and it works. Then he heads back into the states with tracks like “Tunnel Vision” where Timbaland’s production shines and gets your heart beating at a frenetic pace. If there was a number to get people jumping it’d be that track. He also brings back some of his vocal abilities in “Starship Coupe” where his famous falsetto does a fine job of seducing you.
But throughout all of genre skipping and revisits, the last track “Blue Ocean Floor” really displays Timberlake’s talents on a pedestal. In an interview on iHeartRadio, Timberlake told Ryan Seacrest he was a big fan of Thom Yorke and that he had been listening to a lot of Ok Computer and Kid A during the song’s writing process. Now although it may not sound like Radiohead, the atmospheric ballad surpasses anything he’s done in his decade long career as a solo music artist. The layers of highs and lows of the song throws you into an emotional roller coaster that just you wanting to ride it over and over again.
In the end, the massive undertaking of following-up his multiplatinum and Grammy Award winning FutureSex/LoveSounds was a success. Experience may not be a sonic breakthrough, but Timberlake succeeds by ambitiously venturing into unknown territories and not copping the current trend of hiring a Euro-centric pop DJ to produce an album full of club songs. Instead he went back to what he loves best, brought in a little Memphis, Tennessee, dropped in some sexy, got a little nostalgic, and most importantly came out with an album he truly seems to love. There’s a cornucopia of sounds that definitely needs some time to be digested, but when it finally is – it’s an absolutely satisfying experience.
But the experience doesn’t end. In a surprise announcement by Questlove, Justin Timberlake already has a follow-up and The 20/20 Experience Volume 2 is confirmed to be out before the end of the year. Just another few months and we’ll all really be experiencing the full-on “20/20 experience.”