It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard from Justin Timberlake, but he’s never actually gone anywhere. From the big screen to classic appearances on SNL, we’ve seen JT do his thing without so much as a wink or nod to hint at new music in the pipeline, which I respect. Sometimes, the music has to run its course and the creative process cannot be forced if one is to expect quality. The 20/20 Experience finds JT reuniting with long-time producer and legend Timbaland and exploring some new musical territory, while still remaining true to his pop roots. There’s a little more texture here than one might expect, however.
Justin has accomplished with “Blue Ocean Floor” what a lot of sub-par emo rappers, singers and “rap-singers” have been trying to achieve for years…and does so without the technological voice assistance others rely so heavily on. Subtle touches like what sounds like an old school slide machine rhythmically clicking in the background add to the dark, moody layers present on the song. Though it may not see radio spins, this song speaks to music fans, in case they forgot that the guy can actually sing and put a song together sans the dance moves and boy-band sensibilities.
On the other hand, “Tunnel Vision” is pop music done masterfully with more than a touch of R&B infused into it, as is “That Girl” and this is where Justin tends to live. Timbaland’s presence is unmistakable throughout The 20/20 Experience, bringing his signature sound to the project, a sound that is so synonymous with Justin’s from the inception of his solo career, that the production has a symbiotic relationship with the songwriting and vocals, preventing one from overpowering the other.
“Let The Groove In” is a definite highlight and can be summed up in one word: fun. The vibrant horns and Latin influence are a unique sound for JT, but the blending doesn’t come off forced and the length of the song is appropriate given the richness of the track. “Mirrors” was the second single off of the album after dropping the grating “Suit & Tie”, which was met with mixed feelings (mostly dismissive) by most people I spoke to about it. “Mirrors” has the maturity missing from “Suit & Tie” that may appeal to those looking for something a little more from the album than club pop.
On the negative side, “Pusher Love Girl” seems to drag on to me and is a song that plays upon the trite idea of a woman’s love being like a drug to the singer. The production quality is there as a common theme for the album as a whole, but the song isn’t a reinvention of the wheel and at just under 8 minutes, this is a song that could have either been trimmed down or left on the cutting room floor altogether. This is the same issue that plagues the overly syrupy “Strawberry Bubblegum”, a song that doesn’t speak to JT’s maturity or evolution as an artist and almost seems like something that was intended for the likes of Justin Beiber, sorry to say, along with “Pusher Love Girl”.
Though I’m not disappointed, I do think that after all of this time, we might get a bold new Justin Timberlake who wasn’t afraid to step wholeheartedly into the role of a mature artist as opposed to merely dabbling in mature territory and sticking mostly to the safe world of teeny-bopper-friendly pop. To JT’s credit, however, the redeeming factor for him is that when he does do pop, he completely takes the reins and makes the lane adjust to him and what he brings to the table: undeniable musicality, distinctive personality, and a production machine that can’t really be matched within that realm. The competition, if one can honestly call them that, is going to have to just sit back until JT is comfortably off tour and nestled into another seven-year hiatus from music. Or just hang it up altogether.
Verdict: 7 out of 10 songs kept (bonus tracks not evaluated)
Mirrors (Live) x Justin Timberlake