Tuesday, March 19

The 20/20 Experience: Album Review

Justin Timberlake's latest album full of highs and lows. 

After years of waiting, a few movies and one of the most self-important album teaser videos of all time, Justin Timberlake dropped his new album, titled "The 20-20 Experience" today. Check it out on Spotify.

With songs running on average of over seven minutes, this is clearly an album that needs to be digested over a long period of time. But this is the Internet, and ain't nobody got time for that. Timberlake brought back his musical compadre, Timbaland to produce the album. And boy does Timbaland let you know it. Here is my breakdown of each song on the album.

Pusher Love Girl
I wouldn't expect anything less than an orchestral intro from JT, and he delivers. Right away we are hit with the obligatory Timbaland mouth-sounds that were everywhere about six years ago. This song is plunky, electronic and meandering in a good way.  JT really shows off his vocal range in the song, climbing the scales, fast talking and falsetto-ing like there's no tomorrow. The song is so long, Spotify played an ad right after it was done. And it's only been one song!

Suit & Tie
Very surprised he chose this as the first single. Another very long track that seems to meander. I expected Justin to swing for the fences in his return to music, but he seemed fine with getting men on base with bloop singles. The song starts out extremely slow and includes more Timbaland mouth-sounds. Just get to the good stuff, Justin. S&T has a very classy feel to it, but never really gets off the ground for me, especially with the punch-less chorus.  Also Jay-Z's verse is about as lazy as he's been in years. Dude just mailed it in.

Don't Hold the Wall
This song starts out with some signature JT vocal showmanship, but then devolves into more Timbaland voice-sounds. Sassy vocals eventually give way to a quicker pace, and the seductive horns in the background work perfectly with Timberlake's snappy lyrics, giving it that smokey, exotic club vibe. JT's vocal rhythm is on point in the pre-chorus, but he backs off right away. The song is extremely smooth, but really drags towards the end. Justin eventually asks, "Where you runnin to?" Well, I'm running to the next song, because I'm bored. Don't hold the stinking wall, people!

Strawberry Bubblegum
Mellow mellow mellow mellow mellow mellow is not only a lyric, but also a great way to describe this song.  Dreamy strings play over a distant snare beat with electronic bleeps and a terrific beat. Seriously, I love those electronic bleeps. Lyrically, maybe not so much. Apparently this girl really got him when she said "hey." Profound.  I really liked the overall heaviness of the song, contrasted with the bleeps. This is something Drake has perfected. However, Timbaland has too much of a presence towards the end and the song has one too many breakdowns, sounding like the backing track to a scene from Napoleon Dynamite.

Tunnel Vision
Lots more chopped and screwed effects, plus the overused "ticky-ticky-ticky" sounds from Timbaland. JT sings with some attitude, but his voice gets lost in what seems to be layer upon layer of beats, effects, synths and mouth-sounds. And lyrically, this song is on Justin Bieber's level. Tunnel tunnel vision on you. Chilling by the fire while we eating fondue. There are some really great moments in the song, while others drag. Such are the perils of a seven minute track. In the end, Timberlake saves the song with his singing, making for a decent trip into the (tunnel) vision of JT.

Spaceship Coupe
I love the contrast of the heavy synth and the airy flute in this chill song. JT croons about all the places he could take you in his spaceship coupe.  However, I still waiting for that huge dance song, but all the songs have felt like a seat belt holding me in place. Am I stuck in Timberlake's spaceship coupe, which only plays slow songs lasting longer than eight minutes? I don't want to be wrapped up in a space-lover cocoon. Cringe-worthy lyrics.

That Girl
I wanted life, I got some life! That Girl sounds like a modernized Motown classic, complete with big horns, boisterous vocals and a slick beat. A flashy guitar riff gives it an extra level of funky Motown vibe. Of course Timbaland added some mouth-sounds, which were the only downside of a tremendous song. The melody is sweet, and the electronic ping returns! Long live the ping! The tempo change at the end of the song actually works this time, as opposed to a drawn out breakdown in many of the other songs. Great song.

Let the Groove Get In.
Very fitting song title, as you can really feel the groove right from the start. This is the upbeat JT I have been waiting for the past 45 minutes. The song keeps building and building with layers of drums, horns, voices and other strange effects. The presumably older woman singing adds some flavor, while the slick piano work in the bridge gives this song that signature Timberlake classiness. Towards the end, the horns and lyrics tread that fine line between acceptable and "Shakira-ish" and they may have even crossed into that frightening territory. The smooth ending reels it all in, and makes for a terrific song.

This is the best song on the album by far. Maybe because it sounds almost nothing like the other songs, or it is one of the only songs where Justin seems fully engaged. Timberlake sings about his dream girl, and delivers the best vocals on the entire album. Maybe not the best lyrics of all time and some Miguel-like Adorn sound effects layered under strings at the end lead to some awkward talking... "You. are. you. are. the. love. of my life." Could have done without that, especially since it is repeated a million times (I counted). Despite the rough finish, this is a great song, and the best on the album.

Blue Ocean Floor
This song employs a reverse sound effect played over a beat created by what sounds like projector slides. Very fitting for a song that deals with the past. (Get it, like looking at slides of the past!) Much more creative than Timbaland's mouth-sounds.The watery song builds, then peaks and maintains the pace for a good while. This is an example of a song that went on for far too long. However, it really captured the "floating on the blue ocean floor" essence. The album concludes by fading into the sounds of lapping water.

Overall Album Score:  8/10

In the end, this wasn't exactly what I expected from Justin Timberlake. I wanted some straight dance jams and catchy hooks, but I got a lot of crooning over some atmospheric noise. The length was also an issue. When an eight minute song is done well, you don't notice, but when poorly executed, each song feels like three songs forced together in a jam session. Kind of like that run-on sentence you just read. I also think Timbaland needs to chill out with the Timbaland stuff. Let Justin sing and get out of the way. Lyrically, this is also pretty bad, but Timberlake's voice can make the most basic rhymes seem poetic.

Obviously JT's voice carried this album, which sealed the deal for me. There is no denying his ability to create unconventional vocal melodies. He clearly has no regard for traditional song structure or length, which is something you can do if you are Justin Timberlake. I can't say this lived up to years of expectations, but it did offer a solid album with lots of potential for multiple listens. Or at least until that Fall Out Boy album drops.

By Aaron Brandt, who is on Twitter. https://twitter.com/AaronBrandt