Wednesday 13 March 2013

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience

It’s official.  Justin Timberlake is the master of the coda.

It’s a tradition that harks right back to Timberlake’s debut single Like I Love You, the song’s last moments offering something a little different, a final twist.  Timberlake takes the coda to a new level on ‘The 20/20 Experience’, with the majority of the album’s ten tracks coming in two distinct halves – almost a theme and variation.  The result is an incredibly long album, but the expansive nature of each song is impressive, wringing out every ounce of creativity.  The songs might not be as immediate as his past material, but they work collectively in the context of the album – anyone disenchanted by Suit & Tie can rest easy.  Besides, as Timberlake himself pointed out, if Led Zeppelin can have ten minute long tracks, why can’t he?

‘The 20/20 Experience’ has been a long-time coming, whilst Justin-The-Singer took a career break in favour of Justin-The-Actor.  What’s most remarkable is how Timberlake’s break from the music industry has completely unfazed him.  As his announcement video revealed, Timberlake is a global superstar – and he knows it.  His return is as cool as ever, confident, assured and sexy as hell.  This time he’s got nothing to prove and is able to breeze back onto the music scene without taking himself too seriously.

Stylistically, ‘The 20/20 Experience’ sits somewhere between ‘Justified’ and ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’, combining the funky soul of the former with the futuristic R&B of the latter.  That Girl, for example, merges old and new with its big band feel fusing with current production techniques, whilst Timberlake’s faux shyness in the song’s intro is utterly endearing.  It’s with current single Mirrors that we can see how far he’s come.  No longer suffering from the heartbreak of Cry Me A River or What Goes Around, Mirrors is a song about complete adoration as the repeated “you are the love of my life” refrain of the outro attests to.  ‘The 20/20 Experience’ is essentially the ultimate Timberlake album, even including nods to his past: the trumpet melody in Suit & Tie taken straight from Signs; the repeated “pop!” of Strawberry Bubblegum looking back to his N’Sync days; “take it to the bridge” making an appearance in That Girl.

Timbaland has also become integral to Timberlake’s sound and the relationship between singer and producer is as solid as ever.  ‘The 20/20 Experience’ is positively dripping with Timbaland’s influence.  It’s most prominent on Tunnel Vision – essentially a showcase for the producer with its swirling chaos, crumbling on the words “everything just disappears…disappears”.

Timberlake’s closest comparison is arguably Prince: the neo-soul-funk production paired with overt sexuality, not to mention their shared purring falsetto vocals.  Sex is at the heart of ‘The 20/20 Experience’, an album undoubtedly about Timberlake’s love of married life.  Opener Pusher Love Girl gives us love as a drug with its psychedelic vocal harmonies in the chorus, whilst Don’t Hold The Wall features a jungle, tribal beat that mimics animalistic passion.  Spaceship Coupe is the most tongue-in-cheek track with its lyrics of interstellar love (“I’m trying to find the alien in you”), but as Timberlake oozes sensuality above the dirty bassline, he can get away with the moaning in the outro.  Let The Groove Get In is an all-out assault on the dancefloor, all carnival atmosphere and Latin rhythms exploding like fireworks that cannot fail to induce body shaking.  And then it ends all too suddenly (despite the considerable length) with Blue Ocean Floor, marking an unexpectedly downbeat and sombre end to the album.  Timberlake has the confidence to break the mould and surprise us right until to the end.

Ultimately, Timberlake’s confidence is irresistible.  ‘The 20/20 Experience’ cements Timberlake as a pop master, not just on top of his game after a (long) six year break, but on top of the world.  All hail the king of pop.  Sit back, put on your headphones, press play, and let JT make love to your ears.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Don't Hold The Wall
* Let The Groove Get In
* Mirrors

Listen: 'The 20/20 Experience' is released on 18th March.

Watch: Timberlake is touring the States with Jay-Z this summer, as well as performing at Wireless Festival in London.