Monday, July 29, 2013

Album Review: Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience

Hey Guys, this is Jackson, one of Ben’s co-hosts from Natural Double d20s. With my specialty being music and music reviewing, I figured this blog could use some discussion on this medium. This will be the first in a series of music reviews I do for the blog. Enjoy!

If 13 year old me – the age I was at when JT released his last album – knew I was a fan of a Justin Timberlake, he would enter an existential crisis. However, I have grown up and matured since then [or would like to think so], and so has Timberlake. The 20/20 Experience (1 of 2)[1] represents Timberlake’s most complete work to date, a fully realized artistic piece. Timberlake takes the maturity and intelligence that he put into FutureSex/LoveSounds and develops them further, to create the masterful work on the disc.

This is not to say the LP is without flaws; it has several. Despite this, it is still laudable as a whole body of work and represents a great artistic direction for Timberlake to take up. The flaws I find with the album are probably just based on my own musical sensibilities, so take them with a grain of salt.

One of the strongest features of The 20/20 Experience is that it is filled with the sounds of old R&B and Soul. As a friend noted to me as we listened to lead single “Suit & Tie,” the song sounds like classic Marvin Gaye. Indeed the song drips with the same soulfulness and melodic richness that filled Gaye’s 1972 masterpiece, What’s Going On. The harp is the heavy lifter on this track, as it is that specific instrument that gives “Suit & Tie” the Marvin Gaye, What’s Goin On sound. Timberlake’s artistry and charisma lends itself extraordinarily well to the Marvin sound, and is one of the classic sounds JT aims for on the LP.

Throughout the disc, JT hits Motown-style falsetto, bringing one of American pop’s most classic sounds to the foreground of the music. JT seemed to be highly influenced by Motown, as two of the albums strongest tracks – “Pusher Love Girl,” and “Suit & Tie” – sound like early and late, respectively, Motown tracks. Howver they are not purely Motown, this is Timberlake’s modern take on classic R&B and Soul, with Motown remixed with electronic music and backing vocals. I was quite frustrated by these songs when in comparison to some of the disc’s weak tracks like “Tunnel Visison.” In “Tunnel Vision,” specifically, Timberlake’s over-produced voice almost blends in completely with the repetitive electronic backing music; making the track sound generic amongst a trove of distinctly original gems.

The generic-ness of some of The 20/20 Experience’s songs is, as one might tell, my foremost complaint. With songs like “Pusher Love Girl” and “Mirrors,” a much more modern (“neo”) soul sounding, killer track, Timberlake proves that he is capable of making very distinct music.  And yet, he throws in stuff that I could find on any sort of electronic or modern R&B record. The overproduction of these tracks steals all of JT’s charisma and charm, one of the major elements that make him a great entertainer and artist. My other complaint is that JT seemed like he had too much material to try and put on one record. Either way, many of the seven-minute plus songs on the LP will have one-and-a-half to three minute outros that are a bit aesthetically different from the rest of the track. Sometimes this is quite frustrating as I found the last two minutes of “Strawberry Bubblegum,” to be much more enjoyable and interesting than the first five – as a breakdown, the first five suffer from the same overproduction as “Tunnel Vision” and others, while the last two represent the neo-Motown sound that pervades the LP. For me, this creates a feeling of disunity across the album, and the sense that, with some of these tracks, Timberlake was throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck.

Overall though, it is a good album [how can you not like an album where JT refers to Jay-Z as a “ho”?]. It is not a great album, but certainly represents a great step forward for Timberlake’s artistic ability. He took a gamble diverting from his old “pop” sound, and I believed that gamble paid off. However, I believe that JT has not yet realized the full potential of the music he is now making. JT has a lot of good ideas on this album, and I hope that he takes some of those ideas and runs with them. 

Key Tracks: “Pusher Love Girl,” “Suit & Tie feat. Jay-Z,” “Spaceship Coupe,” and “Mirrors.”

Rating: 7.5/10

-         - Jackson Sinnenberg, whose reviews can usually be found on The Rotation, WGTB Georgetown Radio’s music blog.

[1] The follow up album due out in the fall will be called The 20/20 Experience (2 of 2)

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