The first of two albums to be released in 2013, The 20/20 Experience showcases a more mature sound and growth reflecting his Justin Timberlake’s life right now. There isn’t a track as sonically groundbreaking as “Sexy Back”, but that wassn’t what Timberlake was looking for. He wanted the Timbaland of old and he certainly got it. Gone is the Euro-pop Timbaland employed after FutureSex/LoveSound and replaced with the 808’s, oddball samples and unique sounds many fans missed from the days of Aaliyah, Missy and Ginuwine.
The tracklist may look paltry at 10 tracks (12 if you have the deluxe), but nearly all of the songs could be turned into two. Whether that strategy is a nod to the album title or if the full “20” will play out with album #2 this Fall remains to be seen. Timbaland has always teased extensions of his productions, but The 20/20 Experience showcases this trait even further. These “codas” (as my 4th grade piano teacher called them) allow the tracks to breathe and evolve into almost new songs. With 9 of the 10 tracks stretching to 5 minutes or more, Timbo and JT weren’t afraid to experiment with a variety of sounds and nods to recent R&B trends. “Let The Groove Get In” is reminiscent of “Seniorita”, but even more upbeat and dance-ready. Made me think of Miami Sound Machine, but I fully support it. “Tunnel Vision” makes for a hypnotic, percussion-filled offspring of “My Love” and “Ayo Technology”. From the mixture of soul and new jack swing on “That Girl” to the Indian horns and tribal influence my favorite beat on the album, “Don’t Hold The Wall”, there is growth in nostalgia.
The maturity Timberlake exudes on the new album is often displayed in appreciation for his recent marriage and finding love. In fact, “Mirrors” is one of the few recent pop songs about marriage that doesn’t result in a cheesy mess. The equivalent of a pop home run, the track utilizes Timbaland standard beatboxing with pop songwriting excellence. “Pusher Lover Girl” is brave enough to compare a deeper love to a drug dealer as Timberlake fully embraces falsetto and makes being a junkie sound desirable. The only times the love appreciation falters is on “Spaceship Couple” where sophomoric come-ons are aplenty and on “Strawberry Bubblegum” where the lyrics mostly invoke ridiculous mental images (even if the Frank Ocean-like production is interesting). Though sparkling first single “Suit & Tie” has proven divisive among many camps, I’d have to disagree with Questlove’s recent musing that the Houston-influenced beat switch for Hov’s bars is “pandering”. It merely makes sure listeners are paying attention and serves as another example that even a more mature sound can evolve.
While they don’t totally fit the rest of the album, bonus tracks “Dress On” and “Body Count” shouldn’t be missed as they almost serve as a proper JT & Timbo duo effort. “Dress On” features some quick bars from Timbaland that segue into beatboxing while the hum of the synth wheezes in the background. “Body Count” has a “Like I Love You” feel with similarly engaging chords and bounce.
What’s your favorite track on the new JT album?