We reviewed Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience” …IN GIFs!
Don’t call it a comeback! Well, actually, go right ahead. This one really does count as a comeback.
Seven years (and a whole lot of acting gigs and “SNL” appearances) after sending us along on a space-pop odyssey on the (still) groundbreaking FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake made his formal return (quite formal — suit and tie formal, in fact) to the music industry this week with an early stream of The 20/20 Experience (grab the actual disc when it drops March 19!). Teaming up yet again with his constant collaborator Timbaland, the former boy band crooner (we bet he hates hearing that!) has carved out another collection of extended mid-tempo grooves for his 2013 return, full of extended breakdowns and bouncy interludes that stretch each song well past the 5-minute mark.
In a lot of ways, 20/20 is not so much an evolution in sound as it is a continuation of his 2006 record, relying on the same horn-heavy loops and Timba-branded beatboxing as he did over a half decade ago. And while he manages to get the crowd briefly pumped for lead single “Suit & Tie” and the Latin-infused “Let The Groove Get In,” the record is largely an “album only” affair, as opposed to the more hit-heavy, single-ready fare of his last two records.
But even if the new album isn’t chock-full of obvious singles (which isn’t even a bad thing, necessarily) and often drags (that one’s a bad thing), Justin’s packed a few massive punches along the way, including the unbelievably sexy “Don’t Hold The Wall,” the Janet-esque R&B coo of “Strawberry Bubblegum,” and “Blue Ocean Floor” — arguably his most stunning ballad ever, proving that JT’s still got what it takes to stay comfortably seated at the throne as pop royalty.
Read our track-by-track review of Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience after the jump!
1.) “Pusher Love Girl”
After a giant swell of strings, we’re off: The 20/20 Experience begins with Justin’s first (of many) swoony odes, weaving his dreamy falsetto across slick guitar licks and a soulful flow. “Come and be my dealer, babe! All I want is you… you’re my little pusher love girl,” he assures us — for about 8 straight minutes. The drum beats and horn sounds, which have apparently been cryogenically frozen and imported directly from 2006 (or perhaps Madonna and JT’s Timba-produced collabo, “4 Minutes.”) As the tempo suddenly drops, the boys get cosmic, bouncing around as JT starts to stutter: “Now I’m just a j-j-j-junkie for your love.” It’s a trip.
2.) “Suit & Tie (feat. Jay-Z)“
This one we already know all the words to — and now it’s even longer! 20/20’s lead track won’t ever feel like a smash, but it’s far and away the most commercial track on the album (aside from the vastly superior “Mirrors,” which is currently No. 1 in the U.K.). That lazy stride, those dumpy horns — it’s hard to get too motivated during the intro. But the smooth, sparkling rhythms and Timberlake’s confident flow give the track enough razzle dazzle to come to life. In the hands of a less capable performer, the track would fall with a loud thud. Only JT!
3.) “Don’t Hold The Wall”
OK, sexy is most definitely back: The tempo drops (and so does Justin’s voice), filling out into a minimal tribal pulse, cricket noises, and just the slightest touch of Timba’s infatuation for Bollywood beats. It’s a moonlight seduction, y’all! “Well, huh, I’m the best ever/ But you’re so far, I had to come get ya.” And just like that, Justin’s crossing the club and locking eyes and grabbing hips and — wait, oh God. Is Jessica Biel listening? Oh, who cares?! By the time that nasty breakdown comes bumping into the speakers (which sort of sounds like Madonna’s Hard Candy track “Heartbeat”), no one could possibly be held responsible for their behavior. Just remember to leggo the wall!
4.) “Strawberry Bubblegum”
Timberlake’s all caught up on the scent of strawberry bubblegum wafting in the air, grooving along light sparkles of electronica and ambient noise warbling against the speakers: “I guess your mouth in motion got me so hot/ And I can tell it’s pure just by the taste.” Oww! As the second half of the track fills the speakers — wait, is that you, Miss Janet? Justin suddenly becomes a long lost member of the Jackson clan, gently cooing across a seductive ’90s R&B stride that recalls Janet’s “When We Oooo.” “I’ll love you ’til I make you…pop!” he sings. (An ode to *NSYNC’s “Pop“? Perhaps not.) It’s certainly the sexiest ode to chewing gum since Annie came around.
5.) “Tunnel Vision”
Timberlake’s got just one thing on his mind — and it’s you: “A million people in a crowded room, but my camera lens is only set to zoom and it all becomes so clear,” he sings across the bouncy, signature Timbaland bounce, full of tripping drums and dramatic swells of strings. It’s probably the album’s most tediously grating moment (that vocal loop whining “I know you lie!” on repeat is kind of a killer), and nothing we haven’t already heard done on FutureSex/LoveSounds — although the sentiment is sweet, JT.
6.) “Spaceship Coupe”
JT’s so, so, so in love, he’s blasting off and getting his intergalactic freak on with his lover: “Hop into my spaceship coupe,” he instructs above the slow-marching, twinkling beat, “There’s only room for two/ And with the top down, we’ll cruise around, land and make love on the moon.” The sizzling guitar solo deeper is a fine moment, but like “Tunnel Vision,” this spacey (dare I say, wannabe Prince) seduction seriously starts to drag.
7.) “That Girl”
It’s throwback time: Introducing… JT & The Tennessee Kids! After a cheesy introduction at the microphone (serving up a flashback to Justified’s “Senorita” in the process), JT kicks into another soulful slow burn, backed by plenty of horns and some uplifting organs: “So what, you’re from the other side of the tracks? So what, the world doesn’t think we match?” You’re such a charmer, Timberlake. But which girl, exactly, are you referring to?
8.) “Let The Groove Get In”
Are you comfortable? Right there? Well, it doesn’t matter, ’cause once the groove gets in, you’re going to move. “Let’s get crazy, like we ain’t ever gon’ see tomorrow,” Timberlake urges above the fiery flares of Latin drums and big House piano chords, conjuring some serious Miami Sound Machine heat in the process. It’s the most uptempo moment on the whole album, so you better get off your seat while you still can! C’mon, shake your body baby, do the conga!
The shining standout of the record (apart from “Don’t Hold The Wall” and “Blue Ocean Floor”): Sure, the production might as well make it a bonus track off of FutureSex/LoveSounds, but it’s just as good as the best songs off of that album. “’Cause I don’t wanna lose you now/ I’m lookin’ right at the other half of me,” Justin earnestly pleads. It’s hugely catchy, and the melodies are arena-size. That breakdown at the end of the track — with its muddled repetitions of “You are the love of my life” and a soft piano landing — is especially beautiful.
10.) “Blue Ocean Floor”
As the album draws to a close, we head out to sea with “Blue Ocean Floor,” a vastly more mature and experimental production than a majority of the album — and surely one of his greatest ballads of all time. Guy Sigsworth-like organic beats fly backward throughout, as the sound of the ocean trails hauntingly in the background. “If my red eyes don’t see you anymore, and I can’t hear you through the white noise/ Just send your heartbeat I’ll go to the blue ocean floor where they find us no more,” Timberlake slowly croons. It’s the perfect “Titanic” theme born 15 years too late. What a gorgeously unexpected way to let go.
Photo credit: RCA Records