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Review: Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

When you think about it, it’s almost a miracle that Justin Timberlake’s career is where it’s at right now. He had everything against him: the boy-band-member status, the horrible wardrobe, and the soon-to-turn-crazy girlfriend. Like the other N’Sync members, it was easy to predict a complete failure for the rest of his endeavors. But somehow, it turned out that the Tennessee kid was more than just the pretty-face frontman of a temporarily successful boy-band. He actually had talent. A lot of it. And he learned to surround himself with the right people in the industry too. The Neptunes and Timbaland have catapulted his music to the top of the charts at the turn of the millenium, and he also left Britney for a woman who seems to have a lot more brains. Those moves have transformed him into one of the biggest pop stars of a generation.

After the chart-smashing, post-modern pop-R&B FutureSex/LoveSounds came out in 2006, fans have been craving impatiently for new material from Timberlake. Now the question was: how do you top a multi-platinum album that somehow redefined the genre of pop music? Easy! You just change lanes and go the opposite way, avoiding comparisons with the past, and creating something entirely new.

Timberlake returned to the studio with long-time collaborator Timbaland to tackle his 6-year comeback to the music industry, and sceptics who thought it was a bad move will be proved wrong. The veteran producer shows that, amidst all the half-ass pop crap he puts out every year, he’s still able to bring to life brilliant and intricate melodies. With only two of the ten tracks on the album being under the 6-minute mark, it leaves time for the songs to evolve and slowly shift directions, building remarkable progressive pieces. Drawing inspiration more from Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes than from Daft Punk and Tiesto, The 20/20 Experience exhales the 70s, where as FutureSex/LoveSounds experimented more with avant-garde and post-2006 sounds. The Pusher Love Girl opener couldn’t prepare you any better for what the next hour has in store: Timberlake’s falsetto, bright horns, strings and synths. On Let The Groove Get In, Timbaland even mixes in some African flavor, only to turn it around later into some kind of neo-soul mixture.

Lyrically, JT did not reinvent anything with 20/20. All ten songs are love-(or sex)-oriented, but that’s what he’s good at, and he’s still able to surprise us with his songwriting. “Under the water you scream so loud but the silence surrounds you, but I hear it loud and you fall in the deep and I’ll always find you” is one of the albums strongest lines, on the Blue Ocean Floor closer, on which the water metaphors will come slowly striking at you, accompanied by ambient synths and echoing piano that sound very Brian Eno. It is by far the most unexpected song on the album, something nobody could have predicted in 2002 out of the former N’Sync dude. Mirrors, the second single out of the album, is also a beautiful ode, most-likely inspired by Timberlake’s now-wife, Jessica Biel. Curiously, the only doubtable decision lyric-wise was to integrate a Jay-Z verse on the crooner-inspired Suit & Tie; it feels misplaced and out of context.

By rarely targeting the dance floor with his production and by creating lenghty songs, it really seems like Timberlake told to himself “screw the radio airplay” and came out with an album that did not have any creative barriers to satisfy the appetite of the millions of teen girls who were begging for Justin’s return. It would have been very easy for Timberlake to get in the studio and come up with 12 catchy songs with cute choruses to appeal to the masses. Because of that, The 20/20 Experience will most likely not be the multi-million dollar album that RCA Records must have been waiting for, but it is a very big statement in Timberlake’s career. It shows great maturity in his artistic talent, and more importantly, it made the 6-year wait very worth it for true fans.

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