Following the enormous success of the FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake fell off the musical map and let his ceaseless ambition guide him down other career avenues. He’s proven his acting chops playing Napster founder Sean Parker in David Fincher’s The Social Network, but only after letting them go to waste on slapstick slop like The Love Guru. Ever the crowd-pleaser, he distanced himself from his boy-band image while performing the highly entertaining History of Rap with Jimmy Fallon. Timberlake seemed to remain in character as Mr. Parker, adopting the same energy he brought to the role of the entrepreneur while recently hosting Saturday Night Live.
Sadly, it looked like JT had no desire to make another album. That said, it’s not like the R&B virtuoso had anything to prove. He certainly had more pressing matters to tend to after finally tying the knot with long-time girlfriend Jessica Biel (that one deserves a slow clap).
Matrimony must have ignited a creative fuse in Timberlake, as he once again had the urge to get in the studio. Following the indirect advice of collaborator Jay-Z, JT kept the circle very close-knit and the walls tall on the follow-up to his seminal work, FutureSex/LoveSounds. Enlisting the help of his good friend and super-producer Timbaland, along with J-Roc and songwriter James Fauntleroy, Timberlake primed himself for a triumphant return to the world stage.
- Timbo & JT
Choosing to keep the public in the dark regarding his comeback (but as LL Cool J would say, he “been here for years”), Timberlake cryptically toyed with eager fans regarding the prospects of a new album through Twitter before setting the record straight with a brief video on Youtube that announced his imminent return.
The lead single “Suit & Tie” featured Jay-Z and was released to immense scrutiny. Sampling a deep soul cut from 1973 – Sly, Slick & Wicked’s “Sho Nuff” – the track was a statement to industry and casual listeners alike that Timberlake was not shooting for radio airtime with this record. Instead, the silky smooth beat pandered to an audience that appreciated a more leisurely 95 bpm range (so, basically, no one born after ‘86 as well as Kanye West). While it clocks in at just under five and a half minutes, “Suit & Tie” is the second shortest track on the album (“That Girl” takes top honours with a lowly 4:49 run-time), which again reinforces Justin’s plan to overshoot the radio altogether.
But the sprawling and ambitious remainder of the album is certainly worthy of the club – DJs will be scrambling to incorporate parsed-down versions of the songs into their mixes. Whereas FutureSex/LoveSounds revolved around a feeling of intense sexual frustration and yearning, 20/20 Experience finds us listening to a more mature, self-assured Timberlake. On “Don’t Hold The Wall,” Timbo experiments with Bhaṅgṛā rhythms in his production, while JT croons the straightforward, titular hook with a verve that brings memories of his NSYNC days rushing back. “Tunnel Vision” is perhaps most reminiscent of his past album, with its glistening synths adding to the feeling that Justin is still prone to being lovestoned. But the song’s relatively celibate focus on one female subject suggests that he’s been able to settle down. “Let the Groove Get In” is what James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” would sound like if it were placed on steroids and charged with an electrifying carnality that has come to be Timberlake’s touchstone.
“Mirrors” is a heartwarmingly sentimental ode to his “other half” in Biel that will surely serve as a fitting backdrop for the first dance of the more contemporary couples getting married this summer. The album ends with “Blue Ocean Floor,” a song with a hazily nebulous and murky instrumental palette that encapsulates the feeling of waking up with your significant other and deciding to spend the day lounging about in bed.
But as many will be happy to learn, Justin revealed that this sense of lethargy didn’t pervade in the studio, as he plans to release the second volume of The 20/20 Experience later this year. Which kind of makes sense, since ten songs in addition to another ten gives us 20/20 vision.