In the age of ephemeral memory and fleeting loyalty to music artists, six years is a long gap between albums.It is hard to imagine that Justin Timberlake’s last album “Future Sex Love Sounds” was released around six years ago. For most artists, that gap spells career demise. Timberlake tided this gap by playing prominent roles in movies, Saturday Night Live episodes, and featuring on several artist’s singles in the interceding years. This practically guaranteed that he did not become a victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon. Other pop stars that want to take a long musical hiatus might want to take some pointers from Timberlake. Needless to say, despite the gap, the anticipation for the new album “20/20 Experience” has been high to say the least.
One listen of the album would definitely convey the sense that Justin Timberlake has reached a point in his career where he feels he does not have to prove himself or actively compensate for his absence as a solo performer from the music business. The first sign of this level of comfort stems from his decision to stretch (as opposed to deviate from) the confines of the standard pop music template by making the songs on most of the album significantly longer than they need to be thus diluting their substantial core more than a little. The second sign is an obvious commitment to making a cohesive album as opposed to a disparate collection of “potential singles” loosely strung together. The album is created for listening in an intimate venue as opposed to a large arena or stadium. This is a rather surprising artistic move for an artist whose musical beginnings catered to a fanbase that was not associated with the “consumption” of full-length albums. Could it be a sign of artist maturation? Perhaps.
There are some dominant musical elements that permeate through the entire length of the largely mid-tempo album. Most notably the harmony-driven choruses, string arrangements, Timberlake’s falsetto, and an air of sophistication. Timbaland’s progression as a producer is worth mentioning. He proves that he might be more than a knob-turner that brings more to the table than his “trademark beats” and annoying “Ay Ay” ad-libs. In fact, he just might have redeemed himself for his unbelievably poor production on Duran Duran’s “Red Carpet Massacre” album. His prowess is showcased best on the album’s brilliant lead single “Suit And Tie“. On this single, he layers modern beats over a “live band” feel (captured by the prominent horn sections). In fact, it is safe to say that “Suit and Tie” is hands down 2013’s first great pop single. The album’s opener “Pusher Lover Girl” shows Timberlake making a foray into neo-soul territory musically. “Don’t hold the wall” successfully marries mid-tempo R&B with eastern influences (most notably in the percussion elements). “Mirrors” is an ode to the sound that dominated the downtempo tracks on most of “Future Sex Love Sounds” (Timberlake’s sophomore solo album). The song can be considered the musical twin of “What goes around comes around“.
Lyrically, Timberlake does not chart any new ground. His themes continue to be fairly lightweight (which is not necessarily a bad thing in pop music). The only downsides to this album are the length of many of the tracks and the fact that besides the two singles that have already been released (i.e. “Suit And Tie” and “Mirrors“), nothing else on the album screams “radio single”. Those fans expecting a “dancey” pop album might also be disappointed. That being said, the album will definitely earn Timberlake respectability in the music business despite not explicitly catering to the commercial musical palate created by American terrestrial radio.
Given that I have never taken a liking to Justin Timberlake’s music, this album is definitely comes across as a pleasant surprise. It demonstrates artistic progression. It might not be a milestone for music but it sure has its share of promising moments. It definitely leaves the casual listener curious about what future musical offerings from Timberlake might sound like.
You can STREAM the entire album RIGHT HERE!!!
STAR RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
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