Amid rumors that Justin Timberlake created his latest album. The 20/20 Experience, in order to fulfill his contract with RCA, you can’t help but listen to it with the sneaking suspicion that everything about it is forced. Considering Timberlake’s vehement proclamation in 2007 that he would now devote his career to acting, The 20/20 Experience comes across as hollow rather than genuine. Opening with “Pusher Love Girl,” Timberlake sets the tone for a throwback sound. In many ways, it mirrors Christina Aguilera’s 2006 album, Back to Basics, in which she paid homage to the signature sound of the 1920s.
The successful first single, “Suit and Tie,” follows, with Jay-Z as insurance for a surefire hit. Though Timberlake assures, “I’ma show you a few thangs about love,” the only thing you’re really certain of by the end is that Timberlake is positioning himself as a modern day Sinatra. “Don’t Hold the Wall” transitions to a more contemporary sound with backing vocals from Timbaland. With an ominous backing track reminiscent of something you might hear in a Bollywood musical, the chorus urges, “Dance. Don’t hold the wall.” Though the song isn’t one of the better examples of not being able to resist dancing to JT, it’s admirable for the simplistic message Timberlake has always displayed in his music: Dancing cures all wounds. At one point, Timberlake asserts, “Well, I’m the best ever.” I suppose confidence is key when promoting something you’re not that interested in.
“Strawberry Bubblegum” continues the motif of slow jams dedicated to the ladies—Timberlake’s bread and butter when it comes to appeal. Starting out as something resembling a Barry White song, the music shifts to something that echoes a Hot Chip-produced tinge. Timberlake speaks in his usual laudatory tone toward the object of his affection (Jessica Biel?), marveling, “I let you kick in my ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.” Using strawberry bubblegum as a metaphor, Timberlake notes that “Your flavor is so original.” Once upon a time, so was Timberlake’s. And speaking of which, there’s also a subtle nod to the N’Sync days when Timberlake concludes the overly lengthy track with a simple “Pop!”
Next up is “Tunnel Vision,” the most distinctively Timbaland-produced track on the album. Getting straight to the point with the fast-paced chant, “I know you lie,” Timberlake goes on to lament that he has tunnel vision for a woman that doesn’t care as much about him as he cares about her. With quite possibly the best lyrics on the album, it is the song most akin to his signature hits, “Lovestoned” and “What Goes Around Comes Around.”
“Spaceship Coupe” seems to embody one of the most radio-friendly tracks, while the subsequent “Let the Groove Get In” negates it with a much more experimental feel. “That Girl” is one of the few truly slow tempo tracks on the album. With what is potentially another Jessica Biel reference, Timberlake sings, “I’m in love with that girl/Don’t be mad at me.” Most notable for its musical arrangements, “That Girl” keeps it lyrically simple, emphasizing the need to defend one’s love in spite of public opinion—something that Timberlake is all too familiar with.
“Mirrors,” the second single from the album, is a much stronger follow-up to “Suit and Tie.” Showcasing Timberlake’s skill for sweeping, dramatic vocals, the song conveys an urgency that isn’t present on any of the other tracks of The 20/20 Experience as Timberlake pleads, “I don’t wanna lose you now/It’s like I’m starin’ at the other half of me.”
“Blue Ocean Floor” gives us the sense of being disjointed with a somewhat downtrodden vibe to conclude the album. In discussing the tranquility and escape of the blue ocean floor, Timberlake croons, “Under the water you scream so loud/But the silence surrounds you.” In many ways, it is a representation of the chaos that comes with being world-renowned. But, as Timberlake has shown time and time again, he’s able to handle the absurdity.
The intent behind The 20/20 Experience is bold—for it is an album that was created to be listened to in its entirety. In this manner, Timberlake has done his best to emulate a grand, large scale style in the vein of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. However, though there are moments of greatness onThe 20/20 Experience, to be sure, it doesn’t have the spark and enthusiasm contained on Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds.