A cloudy Experience
The 20/20 Experience shows listeners “a few things” of varying quality
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 19:03
Album: The 20/20 Experience
Artist: Justin Timberlake
Release Date: March 19
The 20/20 Experience doesn’t feel like a comeback album. The term “comeback” implicitly describes a figure that has disappeared from pop culture’s consciousness. That’s not what Justin Timberlake is.
Timberlake has kept his name alive in various ways: the sensual afterglow of FutureSex/LoveSounds, acclaimed acting roles, being Justin Timberlake. J.T. has remained cool during the seven-year hiatus; so much so it seemed the very concept of cool would become a cliché.
So it’s safe to say The 20/20 Experience isn’t strictly an epic return from one of pop culture’s most likable artists. He isn’t aiming to infiltrate the masses’ consciousness like he did (and succeeded in doing) in his sophomore effort; The 20/20 Experience instead invites us into his. The album tries to cast Timberlake as this enigmatic figure in its odd 10-track, 70-minute duration.
The fact that “Suit & Tie” is the album’s leading single and its second track set the tone. It’s not a radio single per say, but a statement that pushes arrogance, yet remains self-assured and respectful. “Suit & Tie” was an event – a shindig where Timberlake attempted to draw the public into this weird ’70s-style, made-for-wedding, three-part package. But it’s only weird if it doesn’t work, and having Jay-Z and Timbaland on backup definitely works.
Speaking of Timbaland, the production is superb on The 20/20 Experience. It’s hard to quantify the album as 10 tracks because of how they’re split into sections, but Timbaland and co. doesn’t feel the least bit overwhelmed at Timberlake’s ambitions. The instrumentals aren’t just lush and atmospheric but also indulgent in their own environment. It’s also the little details that aid the production, too, like the vocal samples in “Tunnel Vision” and “Spaceship Coupe.”
The album’s best moments are when he embraces that sensual indulgence. “Spaceship Coupe” is over the top in its baby-making ambitions, and Timberlake is well aware of that. The crooner sings that an airplane simply isn’t enough for him and his lover: “Where we’re going is way too high.”
No, that guitar solo is going to be so intense, that synth is going to be so dirty and Timberlake’s vocals are going to be so intimate that the couple simply must have a spaceship coupe. It sounds like he’s right.
Tracks like “Pusher Love Girl” and “Tunnel Love” aren’t as epic, but Timberlake’s personality easily carries these songs. However, The 20/20 Experience stumbles because J.T.’s enigma runs thin in the 70 minutes. He doesn’t embrace that sensual indulgence in some crucial moments, and as a result, his presence seems more situational than commanding.
This makes for some bland moments, which is strange because they’re areas were Timberlake has mastered – pop. The album’s low point is “Let The Groove In,” which sounds like more of a cut from the Wedding Crashers soundtrack.
J.T.’s persona is a rather damning flaw in The 20/20 Experience because while the 70 minutes are expansive, the 10 tracks are constrictive. It feel sometimes like Timberlake doesn’t know what character he wants to portray in this shortened track list, so the album as a whole teeters toward being unfocused as he swings from hopeless lover in “That Girl” to clubber in “Don’t Hold The Wall.”
Perhaps the key to Timberlake producing a classic is embracing that indulgence instead of shooting for ambition. He certainly doesn’t need to aim for higher artistry. He is J.T., after all.
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