One of the most highly anticipated pop albums of the year has finally landed, with a smooth and clean landing. Forget this being FutureSex/LoveSounds Mark II, this is a coming of age album for both Justin and the pop/R&B genre. What is immediately evident is the time Timberlake and Timbaland have slaved over this epic. Clocking in at seventy minutes, this is not for the fainthearted.
Lifelong fans of the former N-Sync heartthrob may find themselves distanced from this album on first listen, lacking the immediacy of its predecessors, and instead sees a record capturing Timberlake’s professional growth. Switching from now tacky and aged hard synth ferocity of FS/LS into big band strings and head honcho Timbaland’s signature overtures; 20/20 channels the MySpace maestro’s trademark velvet vocals and his sugar coated lyricism in an entirely new beast.
Pusher Love Girl
Justin strolls in under a blanket of symphonic strings, a true curtain raiser crashes into neo-R&B off beat thumps and old-school Timberlake trills. Up in skyscraper falsetto, “Pusher Love Girl” is just the smallest stepping stone into this seductive sultry saga.
Suit & Tie
The first release of The 20/20 Experience now feels somewhat out of the ordinary in an otherwise R&B laden rhythmic record. However, it is one of the album’s shorter tracks and delivers a more familiar jazz-bar vibe and Timberlake’s copyrighted call and response hooks.
Don’t Hold The Wall
A breather, if you must. Soft elegant harmonies pathe the way for Bollywood inspired beats and deep bass pounding under a relaxed vocal. At times, the tone is so low it’s hard to make out it’s actually Justin. Timbaland is the interrupter as he was in many FS/LS tracks, with the odd ‘UH’ and ‘HUH’ here and there for good measure.
A sleazy Barry White Baritone growls ‘Hey pretty lady, this goes out to you’, and the fresh falsetto returns under slowly slowly, softly softly, disco strings and proceeds into a lounge bossa nova beat not seen since the Sims. Meanwhile, Justin vocally undresses his queen in the cheesy way only he could get away with; ‘if you’ll be my strawberry bubblegum, I’ll be your blueberry lollipop’… No, me neither.
Almost half an hour in, and the Justin of old makes a brief cameo, “Tunnel Vision” nods back to “My Love”, a modern day love story, laced in Timbaland ‘uhuhs’ and deeper beats. Cleanly produced, and a stand out, proper pop song.
Skyhigh falsetto ebbs and flows, expands and deflates through this space-age slow jam, a summery serenade which showcases Justin’s leap from sleazy into sexy, from ‘I’ll let you whip me if I misbehave’ of “Sexyback” into stratospheric baby making beats and maturing wordsmithery; ‘with the top up you’re wrapped up in my space love cocoon’. Innuendo aplenty, here.
Taking a Motown brass beat and snipped-electric guitars, “That Girl” is very vintage, a nod to the sugar-sweet ancestral rooted R&B of D’Angelo and co. Something old, with a polished edge. Timbaland’s ‘take it to the bridge’ somehow finds itself resurrected here as well.
Let The Groove Get In
Ironically or caringly, depending on which side of the fence you’re sitting on, Justin makes sure everyone is still ok; ‘Are you comfortable right there, right there?’ he begins. Latino swing builds through a somewhat dated synth, and sounds almost Lionel Richie in places. The most unconvincing track on the album.
As the musical marathon draws to its finale, we get the familiar “Mirrors”. Undoubtedly, this is the album’s Mona Lisa. A perfect pop/R&B hybrid blending “Cry Me A River” balladry and golden falsetto, it’s Justin at his brilliant best; a cinematic singalong and a huge soaring chorus. Frankly, it’s gorgeous.
Blue Ocean Floor
The curtain closer, the end of the road, and I’m exhausted. Strangely, the saga’s finale ends on a somewhat sombre note, a simple but paltry ballad, which leaves me feeling a bit down after the magnificent bombast of “Mirrors”.
The album cloaks the boy Justin once was and stretches him into the man bearing a cleaner, deeper, and more polished sound. In places indulgent and somewhat overwrought, the album may leave some of his younger fans slightly disillusioned, whilst sweeping up the older generations with the jazzy vibe. The much anticipated comeback is an experience, and, as singles are released, the tracks may sound bigger by themselves, but the record is too long, too try-hard and often too tender.
That being said it’s a sure fire Number 1, and Justin is back, just sleaker and much more musically driven than commercially counseled.
…Adam is listening to James Blake – “Retrograde”