Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (2013)

Justin Timberlake
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Let's face it, friends: aside from the steady stream of musical cameos (Madonna, 50 Cent, Timbaland), film and TV roles (Saturday Night Live, Shrek 3, The Social Network, Bad Teacher, Friends With Benefits, etc.), big business moves and last year's marriage to actress Jessica Biel, one of the likely reasons for Justin Timberlake's unhurried pace in recording a follow-up to his last CD, 2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds, was probably because he knew that it would be a daunting task. Not only did FutureSex elude the the dreaded 'sophomore jinx', itexpanded his range from Justified's lightweight pop and R&B to funk and techno, earning millions in sales, a trio of national Number 1s and eventually, Grammy Awards for them all ("What Comes Around...Goes Around," "SexyBack" and "My Love).  Today, with multiple ventures solidifying Mr.

Let's face it, friends: aside from the steady stream of musical cameos (Madonna, 50 Cent, Timbaland), film and TV roles (Saturday Night Live, Shrek 3, The Social Network, Bad Teacher, Friends With Benefits, etc.), big business moves and last year's marriage to actress Jessica Biel, one of the likely reasons for Justin Timberlake's unhurried pace in recording a follow-up to his last CD, 2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds, was probably because he knew that it would be a daunting task. Not only did FutureSex elude the the dreaded 'sophomore jinx', itexpanded his range from Justified's lightweight pop and R&B to funk and techno, earning millions in sales, a trio of national Number 1s and eventually, Grammy Awards for them all ("What Comes Around...Goes Around," "SexyBack" and "My Love).  Today, with multiple ventures solidifying Mr. Timberlake as a "business, man," his visibility high and the social and street cred at respectable levels, the 33-year-old apparently didn't want to 'fix' a working 'formula' and plays it pretty safely on his latest release, The 20/20 Experience. In other words, Justin Timberlake doesn't re-invent the wheel, but it still makes for a stylish and slickly-executed joyride.

 
If some fans thought FutureSex a little too preoccupied with, well, getting it on, they'll appreciate the fun and flirty vibes that get as much airtime as the freaky-deaky moments. If Justin wanted to experiment with multiple influences before, his new goal these days must be to keep the heads nodding and the bodies popping within the realm of his established R&B/hip-hop comfort zones, since a majority of the numbers are seven minutes-plus and filled with more loops and lasers than lyrics. The daunting lengths aside, "Pusher Love Girl" is a finger-snapping instant earworm of a hit, mashing together the playfulness of Prince's "Kiss" and an "Off The Wall"-era MJ. "Strawberry Bubblegum" is as sugary as it sounds, but the indulgent touches of string and his flawless falsetto delivery as he compares body parts to food keeping it sweet and subtle instead of syrupy.
 
For listeners yearning for a more traditional performances, Mr. Timberlake stacks those toward the bottom of the list, but that doesn't make them any less worth the wait: "That Girl" is a retro-fitted lounge-ready performance (playfully credited to "JT & The Tennessee Kids"), replete with horns and plucking guitars, that declares his love for the "wrong" type of woman (different religion/race/income level?) no matter what:  "So what if she's from the wrong side of the tracks, so what if the world don't think we match/I'll put it down like my love's on wax, guess what?/I'm in love with that girl, so don't be mad at me." "Mirrors,"one of the most sophisticated songs to ever grace his catalog, is a Ne-Yo-esque melodic mid-tempo about running from a love that's already happened and realizing his need to settle down with who reflects him best, "the other half of me."  
 
But since the CD is titled as an 'experience,' what listeners hear the most is an entertainer who believes that charismatic vocals and catchy beats matter more than delving deeper into his artistic reservoir: "Don't Hold The Wall," for instance, is a slithering, syncopated groove, that situates Mr. Timberlake as an opportunist wooing a conflicted clubgoer onto the dance floor, but he's almost overridden by it rather than owning it. "Tunnel Vision," anchored with Timbaland's signature synth edges as Justin switches up from the falsetto to his lower range, is swagger-filled, but "Let The Groove Get In" mimicks Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" too closely and "Starship Coupe," which opens fetchingly with a lush, Stylistics'-type intro, swirls into a sordid sexfest that loops an oft-repeated orgasmic cry into an irritating shriek that will shatter eardrums and disturb the family pets.
 
With Jay-Z on the first single, a tour in the works and JT's chameleon-esque talents on display, The 20/20 Experience will sell well, spin off some hits and help Justin Timberlake remain relevant to, and even expand, his ever-evolving audience. However, if his goal is to create a legacy as entrenched as the ones from those from whom he so obviously samples, Mr. Timberlake needs to focus more on delving into his skill set rather than polishing its surface. Recommended.
 
By Melody Charles
 
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