Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
The latest in epic pop albums comes from Justin Timberlake, whose first album in seven years is an hour-long tour de force that aims to put Timberlake firmly back on top as one of the top entertainers of his generation. Following grandiose albums from some of his peers — Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, to name the most noteworthy — Timberlake goes big with The 20/20 Experience. Though nearly each song stretches past six, seven, even eight minutes in an apparent bid for every track to hit like Ocean’s huge “Pyramids,” 20/20 thankfully mostly avoids the excess of, say, Beyonce’s I Am… Sasha Fierce and doesn’t pander to his audience of now-grown-up, former teenyboppers, actual teens and “serious music fans.” Producer Timbaland, with whom Timberlake previously collaborated very successfully, shows up to produce 20/20 with Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon (Jay-Z, Chris Brown). Timberland and Harmon keep things relatively mature and redolent of classic soul and R&B, wisely avoiding the sort of europop faddism that has drowned recent efforts by Madonna and Rihanna. “Pusher Love Girl” is funky and spare, allowing Timberlake to unleash the high-end vocals he first debuted on “Cry Me a River” and showing the strongest bit of the Stevie Wonder influence that crops up all over the album. First single “Suit & Tie” moves from slo-mo, tripped-out hip-hop of the classic Timbaland variety before morphing into a swirling, orchestral soul jam and then back again for an unflashy but welcome spot from Jay-Z. The longer song lengths works for Timberlake when the songs have something to say — despite its confectionary name, “Strawberry Bubblegum” is a glorious pastiche of the sort of psychedelic soul pioneered by Shuggie Otis and ’80s radio R&B, shifting its beat several times and sounding inspired throughout. When they’re less inspired, the songs drag as Timberlake occasionally goes too low-key. But for the majority of 20/20, Timberlake and Timbaland keep things equal parts interesting and entertaining, like on “Let the Groove In,” which can only be described as a futuristic version of Debarge or the Miami Sound Machine. On “Mirrors,” an appealing, sweet radio ballad in the vein of Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” or Rihanna’s “What’s My Name,” Timberlake delivers the goods that have thrilled kids since the late ’90s. It’s hard not to let your inner 12-year-old squeal.