Review Summary: A remarkable blend of pop nous, challenging facets and sexual congress on tap
Justin Timberlake’s new album, The 20/20 Experience, dropped a couple of days ago as of the time of writing. The furore has been positively gargantuan. Already, internet boards are awash with comparisons to last year’s Channel Orange, or even House of Balloons. But if I had to pick an album as a reference point, I’d go with Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in the sense that both are ALBUMS albums. Both sound like their artists creative zenith. Both are immaculately polished and probably their greatest achievements to date. And both lose an ineffable something in the process; in the same way that nothing on MBDTF moved me as much as Heard ‘em Say, say, or Gone, nothing on The 20/20 Experience quite captures the effervescent synth pads that begin My Love, or the drunken familiarity of Senorita or Rock Your Body.
There’s scepticism in some circles. This album seeps with progessiveness, and the song lengths reflect that – there’s not a single track on here that has a duration of less than five minutes, with most treading the 7-minute line. As such, there’s an influx of commentary – dominated by Nirvana-T-***-wearing, Led-Zep-Listening, ‘I-was-born-in-the-wrong-generation’ Redditor-types – that gleefully point out the palpable irony in a former member of N*Sync and a Pop icon emulating the likes of ‘Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin’. The uproar here seems to be that a mere pop star has the gall – nay, the temerity!- to attempt to pen intricate, long songs free of bloat.
And hey - remember earlier when I called The 20/20 Experience an album’s album? The longer songs are part and parcel of that; they deliberately function as a means of directing the listener’s focus to the album rather than the tracks that comprise it. Let’s be clear: what are pop songs for if not to repeat, again and again (or; how many times have you repeated Hey Ya in a row? Thought so.)? How often have you reached the end of a pop song and said ‘I wish this song didn’t have to end’? On the The 20/20 Experience, the songs don’t end; or at least, they go on for long enough to satiate the listener without boring them. Paradoxically, then, the longer, fleshed-out songs make sure the listeners attention is devoted to the album, not specific songs.
And what songs they are. Though I go through lapsed periods when it comes to Timbaland, my faith has been restored. The production is absolutely pristine, combining Timbalands pop nous with intricate details (example: how ***ing good is that typewriter effect on Blue Ocean Floor. Honestly) and textures that demand a headphone listen. The stellar ‘Don’t Hold The Wall’ along with ‘Tunnel Vision’ and ‘Let the Groove in’ are straight-up bangaz twisted and mutated into something sophisticated that you’ll wanna trip the light fantastic to (even you, honkey). The songs lengths continually justify themselves by taking off in unexpected directions while retaining an unerring sense of cohesion; this trick repeated over the main course of ten tracks makes for an enthralling, surprising experience. Blue Ocean Floor is a damn-near perfect album closer, simultaneously serene and unsettling. The song carries a tightly-coiled energy in the haphazard drums and reverb-heavy samples and ominous strings that you expect chaos to unleash any second, a la Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’. That it doesn’t is a testament to the albums maturity and subtlety. Even Jay-Z’s piss-poor verse doesn’t entirely ruin ‘Suit and Tie’; that it’s the least accomplished song on the album should give you an indication of the albums quality. Haters be damned; I’m boarding the hype train. Next stop 9.8 from Pitchfork (called it?).