Review Summary: Justin Timberlake displays a remarkable amount of ambition on this uneven album, but the length and lyrics of most songs damper their excellent melodies.
I have been spending an insubordinate amount amount of time thinking about my opinions on Justin Timberlake's third studio album, The 20/20 Experience
. More than I would usually spend on an album. Do I really enjoy it? Do I hate it? I am quite frustrated writing this review, because this is one album where I am really torn. I have played this album on repeat throughout the past couple of weeks, deciding and mulling over, and I still don't know exactly how I feel about it.
Almost everybody knows Justin Timberlake. Famed member of the 90's-early 2000's boy band *NSYNC, Justin then moved on to have a solo career. He had released 2 albums up until this year, Justified
and Future Sex/Love Sounds
, both very successful pop records. But after released his second album, Justin took a step back from churning out hit record after hit record and took a hiatus. He returned this year with the album The 20/20 Experience
, the first part of a two-album series. The most instantly noticeable and unusual thing about this album is the lengths of the tracks. For a mainstream pop artist, having seven out of ten songs on your album being over seven minutes is not something normal. From the beginning, you can see that Justin Timberlake has a lot of ambition on this record, ambition that would not usually come from someone who used to be in an enormously popular boy band.
Aside from the lengths of the tracks themselves, from the first few seconds you can see Justin has something in mind more than selling millions of records. Swelling violins that channel the spirit of the '40s grace your ears, until the track fades away into a more upbeat, jazzy song. "Pusher Love Girl" is overall an extremely catchy song that glides with a smoothness only Timberlake could pull off. Although the song is excellently written, the song could have been half the length it is. The last four minutes of the song are mostly irrelevant and can make the song a drag to listen to. However, I would say this is the song that deserves the length it has the most out of all the songs on this album. Another weak part of the song is the lyrics; he juxtaposition of women and drugs is tired and obvious.
The second track, "Suit and Tie," again displays Justin Timberlake's inability to end a song when it should. Jay-Z contributes nothing to the smooth, fluid flow of the song and Justin's pitch-perfect falsetto. The last two minutes are completely irrelevant, and Jay-Z raps some of his weakest lyrics in a while. The first three minutes, however, are mostly enjoyable, even if self-indulgent and sickly sweet at times. The next track, "Don't Hold The Wall," attempts a darkness akin to fellow R&B singer The Weeknd, one that Justin Timberlake could never pull off. He should stick to the bouncy fun of "Pusher Love Girl" instead of attempting to be more tribal and sparse. Furthermore, Justin attempts a sort of hip-hop influenced arrogance that sounds straight out a Kanye West track (despite sounding much more innocent and ludicrous): "I heard your girlfriend tell you, you could do better/Well, I'm the best ever". His boasting here isn't even clever--it's just amusing. These words coming out of a former teen pop sensation just sounds--well, funny
Most of the rest of the songs on this album follow the format as the first three-interesting, catchy melodies yes ridiculous lyrics, and length. Strawberry Bubblegum has the bad, saccharine-sweet metaphor of a woman and strawberry bubblegum ("Baby please dont change nothing/Because your flavours so original"), and "Spaceship Coupe" overstays its welcome about 3 minutes. "Let The Groove Get It" is highly repetitive and uninteresting, probably the worst song on the album. Tunnel Vision, That Girl, and Blue Ocean Floor are the three songs that break this mold. Tunnel Vision once again attempts the darkness of "Don't Hold The Wall," but pulls it off with a more atmospheric sound, eccentric samples, and more original lyrics. "That Girl" is a Bruno Mars song from the 1950's, complete with soulful vocals, groovy finger snaps, jangling guitars, and doo-wop backing vocals. The song itself is probably the most different from all the other songs on the album. And it (*gasp*) doesn't overstay it's welome! Its innocent lyrics are somewhat cliché, but that can be forgiven because of the song's aesthetic.
Mirrors is the song i'm the most torn about. It has the catchiest melody out of every song on the album, and sounds a bit like a more mature *NSYNC song. The melody itself shows a great amount of growth of Timberlake since the 1990's. However, the production is bombastic and reeks of self-importance. The song could have been much more successful had it been more intimate instead of highly pretentious. And once again, 8 minutes is a ridiculous length for a song that only holds 4 minutes of material. But the bombast fades away in time for the last track on the album, "Blue Ocean Floor." Inoffensive and pretty without ever managing to be beautiful, the song is mostly successful in winding the album down to a more subdued and personal conclusion.
For the most part, it seems Justin Timberlake simply made these songs the length they are for the concept and thrill of being an "out there" pop artist. However, most of these songs aren't strong enough to last as long as they do. Most of the lyrics are clichéd and overused, and some just plain stupid--"You're dressed in that dress I like". This album is deeply flawed, however many of the melodies are catchy and fun, and Justin's voice for the most part is smooth and interesting, making The 20/20 Experience
occasionally spotted with bubbly and enjoyable pop.
Pusher Love Girl
Overall Rating: 3.1