Review Summary: THE pop album of 2013.
Perhaps it's because I was spoiled by the soulful R&B that my mom listened to, and felt the passion in their voices even when I was in elementary school, but commercial pop is tainted for me. I remember what it once was, and I miss feeling that emotion that showed that they actually cared about what they were singing. I'm not so naive to think that there aren't gems in the genre, but I can't say that I'm willing to wade through that swamp to find it.
Which is why Justin Timberlake's new album, 'The 20/20 Experience', is so nice--because like 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' before it, no one has to search through the mud to find this--Timberlake is, and since N'Sync has been, at the forefront of pop music. It's a wonder that he didn't just drop an album full of club hits and call it a day. Lord knows he could've, and the public would've eaten it up, and he'd still be nominated for a Grammy, and the system would be in equilibrium for another cycle. But no; like Kanye, Timberlake reminds us that beyond the acting and clothes and part-time SNL hosting, that he has the exact same ear for good music that we do. MUSIC that is his first and foremost passion, and he shows just how deep his love for the art runs on this, (only) his third album.
Actually...maybe he shows it a bit too much. No doubt that the biggest criticism of the album is that it's HUGE, with a total run time of 70 minutes spread out among only 10 tracks. That's a lot for anyone to take in, but for fans of pop music, that's almost torturous. Those of us who can appreciate a well-crafted song or three, however, will find that all that extra time can be well-spent admiring each element of the album that make it such an accomplishment. Go ahead and try to point out all of the homages that JT has given to the Pop, Soul and R&B greats of the past--The Isley Brothers, who run deep the grooves of "That Girl;" the subdued guitar solo in the middle of "Spaceship Coupe" that calls to mind the bridge in the middle of Usher's "U Got It Bad;" the structural similarity that "Pusher Love Girl" has to Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones." And then just allow yourself to be floored by Timbaland's phenomenal production--make no mistake, it's his crisp and appropriate mixing and sampling that allows these songs to take old-school class and present it to those looking for modern pop hits. Every time I listen to "That Girl," I marvel at how Timbaland and Timberlake managed to put a song like that together and make it enjoyable for both myself, a college aged, pop-music-hating cynic, and my 60-something-year-old step-dad, an old-skool DJ who I'll readily admit has better taste in music than I do. The baby sounds in the middle of 'Spaceship Coupe" delightfully shouts out to Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?" (another superlative production job from Timbaland). And that LTD sample in "Suit and Tie" is, for lack of a better word, perfect.
And that's the reason why Justin Timberlake's album is such a triumph--because it takes cues from a time when pop music had meaning and feeling, and creates something that can be enjoyed by three generations of people. Because you can dance to "Let The Groove Get In" if you want to, or you can just bob your head to "Suit and Tie" if you want to, or you can reminisce about the JT of old as you listen to "Mirrors" if you want to...OR, you can sit and enjoy the entire album alone if you want to (the latter of which I feel has been left off the priority list of pop music for far too long). It's such a triumph because it was the first album since Kanye West's '...Twisted Fantasy', and the first pop album since Janelle Monae's 'The Archandroid' that made me shake the stereotypes I had of the genre, and sit down and appreciate it as something worthy of being called art. Timberlake and Timbaland put their heart and soul into this album, and they wanted us to know it. And while it's still not perfect (really, that run-time is hard to deal with, and I could live without 'Mirrors'), it's the closest thing to perfection that pop music has gotten in a good long while, and if Justin does win a Grammy, he'll have truly earned it.
-"Pusher Love Girl"
-"Suit and Tie"