Review Summary: Aren't you something to admire.
JT sure loves making people wait, doesn't he? At the time, the four-year wait between his solid debut Justified
and his mature, colorful followup FutureSex / LoveSounds
sure seemed like a hell of a wait, but the masses had to wait seven whole years to hear from him again on 20/20 Experience
. Admittedly, it's not like Timberlake vanishes into hiding during the interims between his records - Timberlake had made quite a name for himself as an actor inbetween FutureSex
, after all. Even so, making people wait this long for something new is an unheard-of tactic in the highly-competitive, perpetually-moving music industry, something that would probably kill a lesser-loved artist's momentum. But Timberlake is clearly cut from a different cloth - something about him makes his fanbase more than willing to wait for something good.
And to be fair, if Timberlake kept delivering albums this
pristine, then the wait would be worth it indeed. 20/20 Experience
is a formidable pop record, one that was frankly snubbed of its rightful Grammy For Best Pop Album at the time. This is a record that takes itself seriously - the songs are unusually long (the shortest cut on this record is almost five minutes), the composition & production are austere and experimental, and even the album title & cover insinuate that you're about to embark on a unique and unparalleled pop experience
. And unique 20/20 Experience
certainly is - it's chock full of surprises like the tribal percussion and sinuous syncopation of "Don't Hold The Wall", the unexpected hints of DnB present in the brisk "Tunnel Vision", and the blend of warm, old-timey RnB and speedy synthfunk of the wonderful "That Girl".
For what might be the first time in JT's entire discography, everything is finally working in tandem. Timbaland's production is deliciously funky, a delightful dance of warm and futuristic neo-soul that matches pace with Timberlake's smooth, sleek voice perfectly, a voice that hasn't sounded as confident and soulful as it does here. Timberlake is finally an active element in his own music, adding a lot of character and charisma to the music of 20/20
whereas his silky tenor merely felt like another instrument on Justified
and (to a lesser extent) FutureSex
. It took him a while to get to this point of finely-tuned naturalism, but now that he's here, you can feel
the passion and confidence bleeding out of his voice on every track ("Mirrors" and "That Girl" are particularly strong vocal highlights).
The standout tracks on here are pop-music mastercraft - "Pusher Love Girl" feels like a sugar-sweet sequel to Prince's "Do Me, Baby", blessing the listener with a tasteful dichotomy between the sexy, stop-and-go verses and its' swelling, horn-and-organ-dominated chorus. "Suit & Tie" is a sophisticated slice of synth-drenched RnB, grooving along like an updated, more-timeless version of JT's own "Rock Your Body" years back, the wonderful "Strawberry Bubblegum" marries JT's harmonious vocals, cavernous synths & strings, and a slick drum machine together to create an achingly bittersweet groove, and both the tender, anthemic "Mirrors" and the serene-yet-spooky "Blue Ocean Floor" are an impeccable album-closer duo that ends 20/20
on the perfect note of grace and glory that it needed.
is excellent, man, and that's really all there is to it - the complaints I have with this record are ultimately somewhat minor in the face of 20/20
's surprising sense of consistency and coherency. Yes, Jay-Z's feature and lame verse on "Suit and Tie" feels baffling and out-of-left-field when you consider that the album has no other guests, but it's a momentary derailment at best. Yes, the lyrics are juvenile and basic at times, and clash somewhat with the album's desire to express its maturity, but they're not distracting enough to detract from the color and texture of Timberlake's voice and music. I can't even say I have a problem with the overall length of the songs this time around compared to FutureSex
- given how expressive and expansive everything is here, I feel like the tracks justify their length pretty perfectly, with only a couple of exceptions here and there ("Spaceship Coupe"). 20/20
ranks among the top tiers and echelons of modern pop music - simply put, it's an honest-to-God great album, and given what Timberlake would release in the wake of 20/20
, that quickly became a more precious commodity than initially expected.