Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
Record Label: RCA Records
Release Date: March 19th 2013
Justin Timberlake is a busy man; he’s been on a hiatus from music since 2007, but appearing on records every so often since then, and mainly, he’s found solace in acting, in such films as Friends With Benefits, The Social Network, In Time, Bad Teacher, and some others. However, in January, he finally announced his “comeback,” per se, and with the announcement of third record The 20/20 Experience, and first single “Suit and Tie” featuring rapper Jay-Z. The song itself is quite enjoyable, but rather weak. No, it’s not a terrible song, it’s just the lyrics are a bit too confident (and that’s coming from a man who loves wearing suits and ties on a daily basis), and Hove’s verse was a bit stale. It was a great song to start off with, however, because it’s a nice song to say “Hey, I’m back.” It’s not the best song he’s ever done, but it’s not awful, either. It’s just kind of in the middle. A few weeks later, he performed the track, along with another new song entitled “Pusher Love Girl” at the 2013 Grammy’s, and his performance was brilliant, and Jay-Z even joined him on stage. Shortly afterwards, JT released a second single from the record entitled “Mirrors.” I’ll be honest, this song is MUCH better than “Suit and Tie,” but it also is more accurate of the whole sound of the record in general. I was definitely excited for the record, and well, it’s here now. After a long wait, the record is upon us, and I must say, I’m not disappointed whatsoever. Let me get back to what I was starting to say about “Mirrors,” however; this song is an 8-minute love song, basically, and it’s definitely more representative of the record than “Suit and Tie” is. “Mirrors” almost reminds me of “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean; it’s very atmospheric, cohesive, and quite smooth.
In short, The 20/20 Experience is s record that kind of achieves what sophomore record FutureSex / LoveSounds did, and the best part is, it doesn’t sound like a continuation of that record. They’re both rather different, yet quite similar, which is a very hard balance for an artist to achieve, but it is no surprise that JT can achieve this. Before I do dive into The 20/20 Experience, what do I mean by FutureSex being different, yet similar? Well, it’s similar in one sense – it’s very ambitious. FutureSex / LoveSounds was a very ambitious record in the sense that it was really nothing like anything out there at the time. At least in 2006, I mean. For a pop, dance, and R&B record, it completely took people by surprise, and really, this was the record that made people stop and take a look at JT, because he really established himself as a legitimate artist, not some manufactured boy band singer. With this record, it kind of picks up where it left off, because it’s even more ambitious, and really pushes the bar for pop music today, the same way that FutureSex did almost 7 years ago. Another similarity is FutureSex had a lot of interludes in the record, and this one is no exception. This one has even more, and in fact, it’s 70 minutes for ten songs. That’s not even counting the bonus tracks, which clock in at another 9 minutes. This record is quite lengthy, but it actually works quite well. Unlike FutureSex, however, there really is no set “concept” to this record, whereas FutureSex had two different sides to it, the “futuresex” and “love sounds.” This one doesn’t have it, but that doesn’t mean it has any less impact. To say this is run of the mill pop music would be the most absurd statement I’ve probably ever heard in my entire life, because it’s anything but. This is a record that’s definitely worth all of the hype that it has, because it’s even better than I imagined it to be. With all of that said, let’s dive into this record, and take a look at the 20/20 experience, shall we?
The record begins with opening track “Pusher Love Girl,” and I must say, this is one of the best opening tracks I’ve ever listened to, because it beings with album with a bang, so to speak. This song also really shows how much JT’s sound has progressed throughout the last seven years. Of course, some progression would be expected, since he has been absent from music, and his overall outlook on life has changed due to a few reasons. He’s matured a bit more than he did with his last album, and it’s quite clear throughout the entire thing – the sound itself is really what stands out here. Every song runs about 7 – 8 minutes, with the exception of a couple, and they’re all quite spacious, expansive, experimental, challenging, but are not boring, nor drag on. There’s a lot of layered instrumentation that run throughout every song, and not to mention, the songs have so much within them, that radio edits would possibly cut out the best parts of every song. Lyrically, this song is also quite nice as well, and in fact, before I move on with the review, let’s talk about the lyrics for a minute, because these are very interesting, to say the least.
As I’ve been listening to the record, I’ve noticed a pattern among JT’s lyrics throughout the last eleven years or so. His debut album Justified was written when he was fresh out of NSYNC, so the lyrics are that of straightforward bubblegum pop. Fast forward to 2006, and FutureSex / LoveSounds was a lot different, meaning that it was a lot sexier, subtle, sultry, smooth, and a bit more mature. Songs like “SexyBack,” and “LoveStoned” really hinted at what he was capable of, as well as much sexier and smoother side of him. The only downside to this was the lyrics were mainly about “one night stands,” aka sex with no strings attached. This record, on the other hand, is a bit different, because it sees JT as a married man, who’s happily in love with his wife, and the songs reflect that. The album lyrics are mainly about love, and do have a handful of sexual innuendos as well, but the songs that are a bit more sexual are about sex with love and emotion, so they mean just a little bit more. Despite being about love, the lyrics are also have a lot of variety – “Pusher Love Girl” is a song that likens love to an addiction, “Mirrors” is about someone being your other half, or like your reflection in a mirror, “Spaceship Coupe” is about making love in outer space, and “Strawberry Bubblegum” has enough candy puns to be in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Going back to the record, however, as it progresses, it certainly gets better as it goes on, and that’s hard, considering “Pusher Love Girl” is absolutely fantastic. Second track is first single “Suit and Tie,” and I mentioned how I feel about that song earlier in the review, so I’ll hold off on talking about it again, but it’s nice that it was included early on the record, but not the first song, because that would’ve been a very odd start to the record. Third track “Don’t Hold the Wall” is one of the more “dance” orientated tracks, both lyrically, and musically. This is a song that would fit nicely within sophomore record FutureSex / LoveSounds because of its overall theme, which is merely just dancing and JT trying to get an attractive girl’s attention. Along with “Suit and Tie,” this is one of the weaker songs on the record, in the lyrical department. Other songs definitely make up for the few tracks like that, but nonetheless, the record itself is very cohesive, and as it goes on, I can really see that JT put his time and effort into this record, considering that he’s been gone from music for about seven years. Not to mention, instead of having a handful of singles, every song on here is worth listening to, and worthy of being a single. However, I would be lying if I said there were not some slight bumps on the road that is the 20/20 Experience. One such bump occurs in the fourth song “Strawberry Bubblegum,” which is actually one of my favorite tracks on the record, and the “bump” is in the beginning, with Timbaland making really weird comments about a girl that JT is talking about later on in the song. At a few other points in the record, there are various voice clips in songs, such as “Tunnel Vision,” and “Don’t Hold the Wall,” and to be honest, they are rather out of place, but that’s not an awful thing. It’s clear that JT is trying to experiment, and challenge himself on his record, and it does work to varying degrees.
As the record goes on from “Strawberry Bubblegum,” every second is absolutely enjoyable; sixth track “Spaceship Coupe” is one of my favorite tracks on the record, because it sounds almost like a continuation of “Until the End of Time which was my favorite track from FutureSex. Following that track is “That Girl,” and there is another slight bump in the beginning of this track as well. The beginning is a pseudo-live performance, so it has an announcer talking about JT and his backing band like they’re live, and to me, that seems like a gimmick on JT’s part to say that he relies on real instrumentation rather than a computer, which is a valid point to make in 2013, but it comes off as quite gimmicky and cheesy. The song itself, though, is rather innocent and sweet, which is the only song of its kind on the record. “Let the Groove Get In” is probably the only song on this record that doesn’t really affect me in any way, shape, or form. It’s not that it’s boring, but rather just doesn’t do anything for me. It does remind me of a modernized version of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” from Thriller, which is a great record as well. This record does set the bar higher, not only for himself, but for pop music in general; this record progresses the genre forward in a very natural way, and it’s just as exciting and eccentric as it is accessible and interesting. I already spoke about second single and ninth track “Mirrors,” but this is my favorite track on the entire record, hands down. This is just classic JT, and to be honest, this song is one of his best, right up there with “My Love,” “Until the End of Time,” and “Cry Me a River.” Finally, last track “Blue Ocean Floor” is the most “chill” song on the record, and it really ends the record on a relaxed and quiet note. It’s a nice contrast from first song “Pusher Love Girl,” which was very high energy and a very engaging track. It’s no surprise that this is record is a big deal, and for what it’s worth, this just may be my record of the year. Although, it’s recently been rumored and confirmed that JT is releasing a second part to the record in November of this year…
If you bought a copy of it at Target like I did, it also came with two bonus tracks, which are “Dress On,” and “Body Count.” I wish there were more bonus tracks on here, because the two that we get are enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as the rest of the record itself. By pop music’s standards, these are great tracks, but compared to JT’s standards, these fall flat a little. “Dress On” is actually a really awesome song that kind of reminds me of a slower version of “Suit and Tie,” because it talks about JT falling in love with a woman, get married, and go on their honeymoon so quick, she’ll still be wearing her dress at the restaurant. It’s basically an adorable little song about how JT loves a woman, and she’s the only woman he sees. Sadly, though, Timbaland decides to rap a small verse on here, and honestly, it sounds so out of place with the song, it’s really weird. Thankfully, it’s very brief, but it’s so unnecessary, I wish a version without Timbaland would’ve been on the record. “Body Count” also has some brief vocals from Timbaland, but more so, in the intro, setting the song up, and it’s not so bad. This song is kind of like “Suit and Tie,” and “Don’t Hold the Wall” in the sense that it’s an arrogant, club/dance kind of song about JT’s killer moves, and really not much else that hasn’t already been covered in the record. I can see why JT didn’t include these on the record, and they are enjoyable, but if you’re new to JT, you’re not missing much here.