Justin Timberlake’s album cover for The 20/20 Experience
Justin Timberlake could have followed up his hit album FutureSex/LoveSounds with another record soon after and risked falling into the usual routine but instead he chose to focus on other things. His moves were smart as he constantly remained in the spotlight as it shifted to his acting persona leaving everyone wondering when new music would come. Nearly seven years later, he finally makes his musical comeback in a way that many present-day superstars could only wish for. The 20/20 Experience was built around its own natural hype and is destined to succeed.
Produced by Timbaland, who was also behind the boards for most of FutureSex/LoveSounds, and partner J-Roc, The 20/20 Experience goes to greater lengths than attempted by either Timberlake or Timbaland before. It’s not quite a pop album as it expands upon a more old school R&B sound with the average song length totalling almost exactly 7 minutes. While the record doesn’t present any new ground from Timbaland as a producer, the production is a reminder of how versatile he can be when compared to some of his recent work such as his own records and his collaborations with artists like Missy Elliott and Madonna. The consistency in the production is something to be noted.
The downside of the experience lies in the unnecessary details that work against the record. For instance, the only guest artist on the record is Jay-Z, who has a verse in the album’s first single Suit & Tie. It’s likely that Jay’s presence on the first single was to gather some credibility for Justin on the R&B radio formats rather than to actually add anything to the song, especially since Jay’s verse acts more as an interruption than adding anything substantial. The song is Justin’s most R&B-sounding single to date so based on that alone, Jay’s feature wasn’t necessary.
Despite only having ten tracks, the record’s total running time is 70 minutes. It takes a really adventurous recording artist, especially a predominately pop one like JT to be willing to go to those lengths. In fact, when I first heard that the majority of the album contained songs more than 7 minutes long, I was intrigued. So I don’t take issue with long songs at all as long as their lengths are justified. However, in the case of most of the tracks on this record, they are drawn out with filler that, in some instances, nearly double the length of the song. Justin goes beyond what Kanye West did on his 808s & Heartbreak record by extending the outros of many of the tracks. However, because of Timbaland’s familiar production style, these extensions aren’t nearly as interesting. Justin justified the lengths by referring to songs by Queen and Led Zeppelin having them as well. Unlike those bands, it seems like his songs are as long as they are for the sake of making them that long.
What weakens them even more is that, despite their great production value and overall decent melodies, there isn’t really a message within the lyrics to grasp onto. Songs don’t necessarily need to have heavy lyrical value, especially when the music is solid but the lyrics in some of the songs on this record are pretty horrid. Spaceship Coupe and Strawberry Bubblegum are both prime examples. The latter of which leaves a feeling of distaste. It’s like Justin’s days of being in a boy-band are coming back to haunt his songs today, leading to some inappropriate confusion as to whether mixing sex and candy in this form was the best idea. Plenty have done it before, sure, and made it playfully work but this song feels off. Meanwhile, Let The Groove In is 7 minutes of repetition and little variation in the music.
The 20/20 Experience was Justin’s chance at making a statement and instead he chose not to. Having all ears on his return, he had the perfect opportunity to say something – anything, and have people jump on the JT train without question. While he succeeded in making a solid record to groove to, that’s just it. The record serves better as a musical backdrop than something to really dig deep into. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it lets down the high expectations we probably shouldn’t have made without knowing what Justin’s intentions were. Despite that, Justin has a clear grasp on what he wanted to create with this record and he definitely achieved that. Perhaps the fact the record isn’t heavy with lyrical undertones and underlying meaning is statement enough and Justin is telling us to just stop looking for something to think about and let the music take charge for a good solid 70 minutes. Mission accepted.
1. Pusher Love Girl
2. Suit & Tie [featuring Jay-Z]
3. Don’t Hold The Wall
4. Strawberry Bubblegum
5. Tunnel Vision
6. Spaceship Coupe
7. That Girl
8. Let The Groove In
10. Blue Ocean Floor