Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Album Review by Jay Fingers

Title: The 20/20 Experience
Artist: Justin Timberlake
Label: WEG / RCA
Genre(s): Soul, Pop, R&B
Released: March 15, 2013

Justin Timberlake has done the seeming impossible.

After taking a Sade-like hiatus from music—to focus on side projects including movies, MySpace, and SNL viral videos—the former N’Sync frontman emerged earlier this year with “Suit & Tie,” a lush, masterful, Jay-Z-assisted jam that allowed Justin to reintroduce himself to a notoriously fickle pop audience. Little did we know what else was in store.

“Suit & Tie” was the lead single off Justin’s third long-player, The 20/20 Experience, a sprawling R&B space odyssey that takes listeners on a one of the most satisfying musical journeys in recent memory. It also marks Timberlake’s first album in seven years, since the release of his seminal sophomore set FutureSex/LoveSounds back in 2006.

“Suit & Tie,” with its superstar rapper feature and radio-friendly groove, was an easy, safe choice for a first impression, and it’s probably the most conventional song on the album. That, however, should not suggest it’s unenjoyable. It’s a laid-back, slow rolling bit of retro-future soul that finds Timberlake reappropriating and updating the notion of “grown and sexy.” Jay-Z’s rich man rap at first seems detached and out-of-place, but when taking into account his aloof nature (Justin even has to tell Hov to “get out [his] seat”) it makes sense and fits perfectly with the song.

Timberlake’s falsetto gets a thorough work out on the narcotic opener “Pusher Love Girl” before he segues into a 2 Chainz-esque chant comparing his lady to various mood-altering substances: “My hero-ine, my cocaine, my plum wine, my MDMA.” Addicting stuff, indeed.

Other winners include the harmonious second single “Mirrors,” with an extended denouement that could serve as a separate, equally romantic song; the Middle Eastern-influenced “Don’t Hold the Wall,” which urges you to head on out to the dancefloor; the moody, ambient “Blue Ocean Floor,” which sounds as if it could have been the love theme for the film Solaris; and the sweet Memphis soul of “That Girl,” with its nimble guitar licks and delicious harmonies that would make it sound right at home on any soul album from decades past. The album’s high point, however, is the EWF-like “Let The Groove Get In.” It’s an epic, seven-minute masterpiece swollen with horns and percussion, a mix that’s guaranteed to have toes tapping if not asses shaking.

Production was, of course, handled by beat guru Timbaland. What he’s given us is really nothing new (he still incorporates his trademark syncopated rhythms and beat box vocal samples) but on this project the producer is truly flexing his muscles, reminding us that he is The Man. (The album was co-produced Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon & Timberlake). The album boasts influences from all genres of music, not just soul. Pop, funk, ambient, Afrobeat, just to name a few, all play a role in this album’s framework.

While there’s nothing on 20/20 quite as innovative or immediately striking as FutureSex’s “SexyBack” or “My Love,” it’s still very much an accomplished piece of work. The album uses everything, from lush 70s instruments to quirky, new millennial sounds, and builds a total groove constructed of impressive harmonies, jarring beat changes, and undeniable rhythms, thus making The 20/20 Experience a perfect blend of electro and organic soul. It will definitely go down as one of the year’s best and most enjoyable listens.

Rating: A

“Suit & Tie” (featuring Jay-Z)

“Mirrors”

“Let the Groove Get In”

“That Girl”

Related Articles