When Justin Timberlake released FutureSex/LoveSounds in 2006, he was ahead of his time. His futuristic pop had yet been heard. It was considered an album that changed a genre of music that had become predictable. Seven years later, the musical landscape has changed. Electronic is the mainstream, no longer a new phenomenon. So when Timberlake took to a viral video three months ago to announce his long awaited return to music, the question became how he would adjust to a new form of pop. The answer is The 20/20 Experience, where once again, Timberlake changes the landscape of pop music, not by going futuristic, but by going retro.
The 20/20 Experience is Timberlake’s comeback. After taking time to become an actor, he returns with a piece of work that reportedly only took a matter of weeks to put together. Timberlake drew upon his acting background as The 20/20 Experience feels like a big budget film, similar to ones he has stared in. It is not a collection of short stories, but rather a cohesive body of work forming an instant Hollywood classic fit for the glitz and glamor of the big screen. Filled with retro soul with a hint of electro R&B, each song unfolds to tell a different aspect of a love story.
If the album is a movie with Timberlake playing the lead, then Timbaland plays the role of the trusty sidekick, never taking the spotlight but still letting his presence be felt with every move. This album is every bit of a comeback for Timbaland as it is for Timberlake. It is a reminder that when given an entire project to leave his mark on, Timbaland excels better than anyone.
“Pusher Love Girl” kicks the album off with that old romantic feel of swooping strings leading into a slow rolling bouncing beat as Timberlake casually drops drug metaphors in reference to love, borrowing Prince’s falsetto. “Don’t Hold The Wall” has a Bollywood-like bass line with psychedelic R&B subdued vocals. Timberlake takes the listener back to 2006 with “Tunnel Vision.” It resembles something like “My Love” as Timbaland chirps out a human-made beat mixed with electric glitches as Timberlake plays director singing,”Just like a movie shoot, I’m zooming into you.”
Each of the 10 songs on The 20/20 Experience averages around seven minutes, but never truly feels that long. Timbaland’s shape-shifting production has each song taking an unexpected turn. Right when it feels like something is about to fall off the edge, he swoops in like the hero and puts the song on a different track. “That Girl” is R&B, with more blues in the beginning and rhythm at the end. JT and the Tennessee Kids groove through 60’s southern soul that leads into Timberlake’s soft rhythm voice. “Let The Groove In” goes from heavy Latin percussion instantly making someone shake their hips before breaking off into a song that sounds like it was left off Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall.
This is not an album of instant gratification. There is no 3-minute radio banger designed to make you dance to it and then forget it. This is music that you sink your teeth into, savor the flavor before sitting in slight coma as you digest it.Timberlake created a pop album without having to be a typical pop singer to do so, setting the bar even higher for a genre that had once again begun to get repetitive.
The expectations were steep for Timberlake to return with an album as equally progressive and successful as the last. He meets and succeeds them with an album that creates a vision, fitting to the title, of deep-read music that plays out before our eyes. As Timberlake yells cut on The 20/20 Experience, he proves that talent is everlasting no matter how long someone disappears for. He is every bit the entertainer that was too talented to share the spotlight with four other guys many years ago. A little bit older, a little wiser, every bit the same shining star.