Review: Justin Timberlake – 20/20 Experience

JT is back on the pop scene after six and a half years with his new rollercoaster album.

Caroline Bursell

When we say ‘dramatic return to pop music’, we’re talking about Justin Timberlake. The Mickey Mouse Club alum, SNL sensation and Social Network movie star is back after a six year gap from his previous release FutureSex/LoveSounds, and boy is he back in style. 

10-track experience

Performing at the Grammys this year and sweeping audiences into a grayscale world of vintage wonder, Timberlake has discarded his bleached-blonde instant-noodle up-do for the polished performer look, wedding ring included.

With his new album 20/20 Experience, our favourite N’Sync member shows the pop world that his winding career path has not been for nothing, and churns out an eclectic 10-track ‘experience’ indeed.

Opener Pusher Love Girl wastes no time in pulling out all the stops – a mighty orchestral intro strides into a jazzy foot-tapping beat, and then there’s that sultry JT voice. One word: Mmmmmmm.

The song’s swelling progression is a refreshing change from the mainstream’s sharp, pulsating club beat, and by the end of its eight minutes the listener is left with a honey smooth, musically layered, Colbie Caillat’s Bubbly-esque vibe with hearty doses of brassy R’n’B confidence. 

Sexy meter

Topping UK charts already, second track Suit & Tie shows Timberlake’s move from the Girlfriend era to the married one, so the tune takes on a classic, mature feel – solidly represented in the single’s black and white music video, an almost-biopic of his newfound personality. Jay-Z strides in with swag for days, but the flow of endearing snap sounds and brass tones is unbroken and Timberlake’s crooning sends the sexy meter skyrocketing.

A stark contrast, the album continues with robotic meets oriental meets classic R’n’B on Don’t Hold the Wall – Timberlake is doing a fair amount of experimentation here, but the uncanny combo holds its own. 

Strawberry Bubblegum takes a step back towards JT’s Mickey Mouse days, where his falsetto charm pairs with a succinct beat, as-dainty-as-Tinkerbell piano and video game beeps. It creates an abstract atmosphere in which the man of the hour is calm and composed. Just like strawberry bubblegum, the song is sweet – and it pops.

“You are the love of my life”

If anything, 20/20 Experience is a production standout, Timbaland making a grand return from where we remember him on Sexy Back, with Tunnel Vision. The song’s wonderful cacophony weaves in many elements and seamless escalation, showcasing onomatopoeia at its greatest with lyrics like “zoom zoom zoom zoom”.

The final quarter of the album includes booty-shaking Let The Groove Get In and king of a single Mirrors. The latter dips into the masterful JT groove, unleashing a love song ladies will undoubtedly fall for (move over Justin Bieber).

An oddly sad Blue Ocean Floor follows his heart-on-the-sleeve “you are the love of my life” grand gesture in Mirrors, but this closing track has a James Blake feel of calculated disorientation and eclectic sound that warrants props for the bold statement.

Like the rollercoaster that is Justin Timberlake’s pop history, 20/20 Experience is the dramatic return fans will lap up eagerly, though the groovy, impeccable complexities may not be what they expected. He’s departing from stereotypical pop and packaging a pick-n-mix of contemporary sounds – what’s left is just to embrace the change. 

20/20 Experience is released on March 15.

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