It’s been over six years since Justin Timberlake took the reigns as the king of pop music with his critically-acclaimed mega-hit record Futuresex/Lovesounds. After achieving pretty much everything a man can in the realm of music, he walked away. Since his last tour finished up in 2007, he’s provided a few cameos to other artist’s music but seemed content to not release anything of his own. In the time since, pop music has desperately missed his style and voice. The radio waves have been spreading Bieber fever to the ears of young people around the world. Finally, after a long hiatus, Mr. Timberlake has returned to get us excited about pop music again.
And who else could open up his comeback record with a 8-minute jam that sets the tone for the whole album before the first chorus. “Pusher Love Girl” sounds like a modern take on some old Prince classics, and sounds as cool and sexy as that makes it seem. Looking at the track list, I was surprised at how many of the tracks cross the five minute mark (all but one). Going over that time is something most artists can’t do, because radio stations won’t play a song that long. But, in a recent interview Justin said, “If Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin can do 10 minute songs and Queen can do a 10 minute song, then why can’t we?” It comes off like a statement full of hubris, but then you hear the record and completely understand.
Each song on The 20/20 Experience is like it’s own mini-album, held together by sonic themes and attitude. I’ve heard EP’s shorter than a lot of the songs collected here, but it never feels like it’s overstaying it’s welcome. Timberlake has combined elements from his prior works, the more soulful Justified and the more hip-hop infused Futuresex/Lovesounds, as well as some new things. It’s got a great mix of Cotton Club jazz/soul and Timbaland’s hip-hop and R&B production. There seems to be a push by all involved to make something that doesn’t sound like anything else you can find right now.
The now-ubiquitous “Suit & Tie” is the second song, and if you haven’t heard it by now you must have been actively avoiding it. A great song, to be sure, but not my favorite on the record. I love everything about it except for the Jay-Z rap. It just feels unnecessary. The two musical supermen seem to have a good chemistry, though. I’m hoping that pays off in their live show this summer (you can check dates but I’m sure it’s sold out in your town already). I really dig the vibe of the record, and this song just solidifies that old school swagger that is pumping through the music.
My favorite song (not called “Mirrors”), quite surprisingly, is probably the most simple. “That Girl” comes well after the halfway point. Following “Spaceship Coupe,” the wildest song on 20/20, comes this fun love song delivered like it was played live in a southern juke joint. Great horn section, great harmonies, and a great vocal performance from Timberlake. He shows off his range from high to low and he even gets a short Marvin Gaye moment that will give you chills.
I don’t want to give away too much more about this album, so that you can experience it for yourself and come to your own conclusions. But, can we talk about “Mirrors” for just a minute? You may disagree with me, but I think it’s the best pop song that has come out in a long, long time. It might be the most similar to songs off Futuresex, but it goes off in different directions and becomes totally unique. This is easily the best work Timbaland (along with J-Roc and Timberlake) has ever done. The full studio version, as it appears here, will go down as THE song of 2013 if there is any justice in the world. For the breakdown around the five minute mark alone, it should win every award they give for music (Best Metal Performance-Justin Timberlake for “Mirrors”).
Reviews of this album are kind of stupid, I know. People are going to be buying this record one way or another because Timberlake is such a huge cultural touchstone that people NEED to have it. Even people that don’t necessarily enjoy pop music or R&B will buy it because they like him. He’s the only superstar I can say that about with full confidence. If a Tom Cruise movie looks bad, I won’t go see it because he’s in it. But if a Justin Timberlake movie looks absolutely horrid, I’ll probably watch it. He just has that natural charm that draws you in. It doesn’t hurt that he puts out a masterpiece every few years.