Justin Timberlake puts out albums so infrequently that each one is a huge event. The sales are big, the hype is BIG, and the expectations are HIGH. The double project makes for Justin’s third and fourth studio albums, and like his second album, they were produced by Timbaland. And that’s where my first criticism lies…with Timbaland. With his decreasing relevancy and trademark insertion of his own vocals, it’s interesting that Justin chose to work with him again, when he could have had virtually anyone he wanted. I would have preferred Pharrell or Will.i.am, personally.
The first part of The 20/20 Experience was released in March. For those of us in Austin the excitement was all rolled up in Justin’s surprise appearance at SXSW, the secret MySpace party, and the general hysteria of trying to get in. (Note: I opened a MySpace account specifically to be entered into the random lottery for the party and no, I did not get in.) The singles “Suit & Tie,” “Mirrors,” and “Tunnel Vision” are all catchy and classic Timberlake. The former features another Timbaland hallmark, an awkward intro that feels like an entirely different song. Timbaland often tacks these onto the end of his songs, as well.
The big band/jazzy theme is mostly just visual, rather than musical. Dapper suits and tuxes? Check. Sharp dance moves? Check. Black and white color palette? Check. Full sound of horns? Nay.
Beyond the singles, there are a couple standout tunes. “Pusher Love Girl,” which compares love to drugs is infectious fun, if too long at eight minutes. “Strawberry Bubblegum,” (my personal favorite) is a little tribute to Barry White with it’s candy-themed sensual lyrics, again lasting about eight minutes. “Don’t Hold the Wall” is a dark dance groove clocking in at over seven minutes. So yes, the songs are all long.
The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 is the weaker of the albums. Again the songs drag on, but this second grouping feels like so much filler with “Take Back the Night” as the only true highlight. “Drink You Away” is pleasant enough and “TKO” is a generic single with is neither interesting lyrically or musically.
My takeaway is this: If you remove the filler, you have one solid album of decent music here. The decision to release two albums in six months time feels more like hype-building than an expression of musicianship. It’s a shame that Justin seems more passionate in pursuing a career in acting, because his real talent lies in his singing. But he’s placed it on the back burner and reserves his enthusiasm for SNL and Jimmy Fallon appearances.