The 20/20 Experience Review
4 out of 5 stars
It’s been nearly seven years since the world heard new music from Justin Timberlake, the boy band sensation turned multimedia mogul. Taking a hiatus after 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, Timberlake stayed busy by expanding his acting career and opening new business ventures like a New York restaurant and the revitalization of Myspace.
However, with Timberlake’s new album, The 20/20 Experience, this pop genius has teamed up with producer Timbaland once again to produce one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year.
The 20/20 Experience is an expansive project filled with sprawling production that runs the musical gamut. From Bollywood-inspired R&B tunes like “Don’t Hold the Wall” to the funky, soulful opener that’s lined with drug-addled metaphors, “Pusher Love Girl,” Timberlake crafts ambitious songs that feel well worth the wait.
There’s a clear sense of maturation within this album. While previous releases have focused on bringing out the club-bangers, The 20/20 Experience focuses more on the jazzy soul that’s been brought to the forefront of contemporary R&B.
20/20 builds upon the strong futuristic-pop foundation that J.T. and Timbaland established in FutureSex/LoveSounds. Each track is defined by a dense musical pallet, soaring strings and explosive horns blend beautifully with the tight hip-hop style production.
Tracks like standout “Strawberry Bubblegum” delve into psychedelic-soul territory. Timberlake is a modern-day Michael Jackson as he croons and pines for a pretty girl to be the strawberry bubblegum to his blueberry lollipop. Clocking in at more than seven minutes, much like most of the album’s track, “Strawberry Bubblegum” travels through multiple soundscapes for an adventurous and engaging listen.
The album is lined with subtle references to Timberlake’s previous work, showing the depth and focus within this album. The “pops” of “Strawberry Bubblegum” feel like a nod to the N’Sync classics while “That Girl” beckons to “take it to the bridge” much like “SexyBack.”
Timberlake’s hiatus came from a desire to wait until he could put out music he truly loves, and 20/20 is an album that’s brimming with the passion he was waiting for.
However, that passion may not always translate as well as hoped. While it’s clear that Justin was setting out to make an album that far exceeded expectations, one can’t help but feel like it’s a simple victory lap. While “Let the Groove Get In” displays the diversity found within Timberlake’s influences, boasting vivacious Latin rhythms, the lyrical content feels phoned in.
Another example of this comes in the eight grand minutes of “Mirrors,” a track that feels like a Top 40 smash that drags on a bit too long. While “Mirrors” showcases more of the emotional breadth that brought him to fame in the first place, the chorus feels like it was ripped from a Katy Perry song and the rest feels like a watered down “Cry Me A River.”
Aside from the unnecessarily lengthy tracks, The 20/20 Experience feels like a proclamation that Timberlake is aiming to reclaim his spot at the top of the ever-changing pop game. While some tracks like “Spaceship Coup” fall into ridiculous refrains about sex on the moon, there’s an equal amount of jaw-dropping moments that make listeners remember why they were so excited about this album in the first place.
“That Girl” feels reminiscent of the fellow returning R&B master D’Angelo and “Blue Ocean Floor” could easily be viewed as a nod towards the obviously influential Frank Ocean with its backwards synths and slow-brooding build.
Ultimately, The 20/20 Experience is an invigorating listening experience, and if you turn on the blinders to the unnecessary extravagance, you can find some incredible pop songs that truly push the genre forward.