If the reigning prince of pop knows anything, it’s how to build feverish anticipation. A long-term hiatus or burning expectations can only take an album so far. Sometimes it takes a superstar, a cultural game-changer to shake the foundation of popular music, delivering a rock/pop masterpiece seven years in the making.
The man certainly took his time, knowing very well that momentum would frantically build higher and higher, year after year. We waited on the edge of our seats with no indication when, where or how this third act would commence. Then, without an ounce of warning, the spotlight struck center stage. A gentleman dusted off his duds, flicked the mic and struck a pose. Ladies and gentleman, may I introduce Justin Timberlake, the coolest man on the planet. Welcome back, It’s been way too long.
Timberlake’s only worry quandary was the daunting task of filling some pretty big shoes: his own. Each of the guy’s last three albums saw a man evolve and mature as a musician, singer and creative mastermind. Timberlake furiously and successfully distanced himself from the agonies and anguish of a boy band past, churning out his solo debut, Justified. His sophomore effort, Future Sex/Love Sounds further expanded on the foundation of a flourishing artist with perfectly crafted soul and top-notch production. With the release of his third and first album since 2006, JT takes his image to an all-new, irresistible level. Timberlake is no longer merely the man he sought out to be, he’s the man who’s regained his rightful seat atop his thrown.
The 20/20 Experience see’s Timberlake take everything we loved from his first two discs while adding some old-school flavor, a brand-new suit and one cool-ass demeanor. The songs are polished, carefully chosen and topped off by returning producer and frequent collaborator, Timbaland. A crooner, a glider, a distinguished specimen, Timberlake channels the role of 1940s big band leader this time around. The man cues his backing orchestra as authoritatively and passionately as James Brown himself. The music hits you hard with a slick call of One, Two, Three! As the story goes, the title came from Timberlake’s friends proclaiming, “This is music you can see.” Wrong. This is music you can feel.
Of the ten songs appearing on The 20/20 Experience, seven clock in at seven minutes or more. Timberlake is nothing short of a modern day Al Green, moving like no one else since Michal Jackson. “Pusher Lover Girl” and “That Girl” bring back that falsetto voice and soulful sound. On “Tunnel Vision” and “Spaceship Coupe.” Timbaland’s rich, slow-jam beat accompanies Timberlake’s futuristic pop sensations. The album’s lead single and major bright spot “Suit & Tie” reminds us why we’re all listening, life just doesn’t get any cooler. The up beat, pop tour de force will have your feet tapping, your glass empty and your jealously raging. With a guest verse by Jay-Z, HOV warns “This is trouble season/time for tuxedos for no reason.” Everyone else better step aside and watch the professionals go to work.
“Mirrors” serves as perhaps the album’s crowning achievement. With heavy, yet organized production and an inescapable melody, the song could have come straight off of FS/LS and is primed for radio play. While Timberlake briefly looses his footing with the trippy attempt, “Blue Ocean Floor,” he quickly recovers with flawless vocals over exotic beats on “Don’t Hold the Wall” and “Let the Groove In.” As this musical experience comes to an end, you’re left with nothing else to do but thank this man for taking the time to deliver this work. It was well worth the wait.
Tech entrepreneur. Actor. SNL host. International superstar. Timberlake undisputable embodies them all. But when the lights hit the stage and coolest man on the plant grabs the mic, everything else pales in comparison. Justin’s last album scored six top-40 singles, three number-one hits and sold over 10 million copies nearly seven years ago. In the teaser video for this album’s existence, Timberlake explains the delay, stating he would only release music deemed worthy enough for the public to hear: “You just don’t get that everyday. You have to wait for it. I’m ready.” So are we. Now take a bow.
3.5/4 Stars. The 20/20 Experience drops March 19th. Go to iTunes and stream the album for free.