Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Album Review: Justin Timberlake - 20/20 Experience (3/5)

I once had a dream about a contemporary pop LP, in which the majority of the tracks clocked in at nearly ten minutes a piece. I awoke from said dream laughing, deeming no sane contemporary pop musicians would even dare. Well, I didn't really, but if I did, that dream would probably have been foreshadowing Justin Timberlake's third album 20/20 Experience. For instance, only three of the tracks runs under seven minutes, which is hard enough to digest on its own, but no--there's a second half which arrives later this year, because 70 minutes just isn't enough.

That said, the albums longest track, second single, "Mirrors," is fantastic and indeed the best track on the album. It's soft electronic guitar flushed undertones, its beat-box stapled backdrop and its gulping beats. It's classic Timberlake that wouldn't feel out of place on his last album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. It also has a "Cry Me a River" essence to it. Unfortunately, for such a magnificent song, it's a shame that it doesn't end at the five minute mark, but instead adds another three minutes with a plodding assortment of piano keys, soft beats and distorted background noise--almost like an extended interlude. It might be the ninth track down, but it mimics a problem that the majority of the album has and why it's so hard to love. However, there are times where Timberlake's sense of melisma works pretty well. Opening track, "Pusher Love Girl" re-calls Prince at his most soulful. The track straddles a choppy electronic guitar, horns and bulky beats. The beats become more prominent and Timberlake's vocal becomes more distorted in its last three minutes. The drug metaphors ("I'm just a junkie for your love") are fun too. Closing track, "Blue Ocean Floor," is another stunner. It's a rather somber ballad, which begins with an interesting atmospheric reverse-effect before soft pulsating beats and piano keys emerge.

Now, the rest of the album isn't bad by any means--the main problem here is that they don't need to be as long as they are. Sometimes melisma, length and experimentation are mistaken for artistry whereas in cases like these, the length should accentuate and compliment the song not over-blow or minimalise it. "Don't Hold the Wall," has an interesting composition with its rhythmic backing--a nice experimental take on R&B that, again, wouldn't sound out of place on FutureSex/LoveSounds. It's latter half pushes the heavy beats to the forefront while Timberlake and Timbaland mutter beneath the composition. "Strawberry Bubblegum," is less impressive with its ho-hum production of clattering beats and bleeps.

"Tunnel Vision," is nice slice of downbeat pop, with bursts of strings and heavy beat-backing. "Spaceship Coupe," follow on its heels, another downbeat track with a heavier R&B edge and a little more sultry--it sounds very Usher--to be specific, it sounds like a mix between "Burn" and "Promise" by American R&B singer Ciara. There's also a great guitar solo in its mid-section. The last two minutes are spent with sexual moaning beneath the composition and Timberlake's murmuring. "That Girl," is albums only normal length track (along with the '70s influenced R&B of lead single, "Suit & Tie") and seems take inspiration from the doo-wop era, motown and Prince's melisma.

It's difficult to class 20/20 Experience as a good or bad album. Its sound is certainly cohesive and it's a magnificent sound he's a exploring--a not quite so ambitious but still interesting and captivating modern take on classic pop, R&B and soul. But it's hard to enjoy when one listen through this ten-track LP is exhausting and unnecessarily bloated.

Best: Mirrors, Pusher Love Girl, Blue Ocean Floor, Tunnel Vision

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