Flashback to 2006: Justin Timberlake had just released his sophomore record FutureSex/LoveSounds, a Prince-influenced album filled with disco-pop, smooth hip hop, and buzzy R&B. His stardom as a solo musician had begun to grow, especially since his 2002 debut Justified. Winning Grammys, touring around the world, and producing three #1 singles, including the memorable “Sexyback,” you could say that Justin was on top of the world. Then all of the sudden, he disappeared off the face of the music world and entered the industry of film and television to focus on acting. This wasn’t exactly the detour people expected, but the results were still satisfying: He has hosted Saturday Night Live 5 times, starred in “Bad Teacher,” “Shrek the Third,” “Friends with Benefits,” and gave an impressive performance in the acclaimed The Social Network. Judging from his experience as both an actor and singer-songwriter, Justin seems to be one of the most multi-talented and culturally adapted celebrities of the modern era. However, his music career seemed tentative. When journalists asked him if he was going to continue to make music, the answer was always ambiguous.
Flash forward to last January: Justin released a mysterious video about a pending record, stating that he’s “ready” to come back to music. Three days later, he released “Suit & Tie,” a surprisingly mature R&B-funk jam. Produced by longtime collaborator Timbaland, “Suit & Tie” had finally signified Justin’s return to reclaim the throne as a chart-topping musician. The song itself attains a luxurious and classy feel while keeping a vibrant and energetic mood, as Justin sings the slick lyrics and guest feature Jay-Z raps as if he had just crashed a wedding.
After Timberlake fans and the media grew with anticipation about Justin’s return and his first new single, the tracklist and album artwork soon came out for his upcoming third record The 20/20 Experience. Although Justin had taken a 7 year hiatus from producing music, he still retains the same engaging sound that won critics and fans over with his first two albums. The 20/20 Experience takes on a whole new standard of pop by fusing together decades worth of groove funk, blues, calypso, electronic, and R&B. Despite the somewhat old-fashioned vibe, The 20/20 Experience contains 10 songs that sound both nostalgic and contemporary. The atmosphere is both heart-achy and lavish.
Starting off with the eloquent, dizzyingly bluesy “Pusher Love Girl,” Justin proceeds to sing and croon over a course of 8 minutes about love, drugs, and how loving a girl is like doing drugs. The themes in Timberlake’s new record are predominantly about love, sometimes subliminally about wife Jessica Biel, but he grows more in depth with his soul, as he sings about classiness, sex, romance, reminiscence, and introspection. The 20/20 Experience also expands on the length of Timberlake’s songs, ranging from 4 to 8 minutes. Justin still contains the ability to emotionalize and sensualize each song, such as the safari-styled 7-minute groove, “Don’t Hold the Wall,” the vivacious Latino-pop-influenced “Let the Groove Get In,” and the snappy, electro-pop jam “Strawberry Bubblegum.” Justin also is able to maintain his eclectic use of hip hop with the catchy “Tunnel Vision.” He continues to mature over the album with jazzy ballads, such as “Spaceship Coupe” and “That Girl,” but he also attains a newer use of 80s chantey rock with the effervescent “Mirrors.” Justin closes the show with the simple but mesmerizing “Blue Ocean Floor.”
Achieving to grab the audience and the critics once again, Justin Timberlake has effectively improved on his sound but without washing away music influences that have helped him make his previous two albums. All I can say is: wow. Luckily, we’ll be hearing more from Justin later this year with the release of a second volume of The 20/20 Experience.
Suggested Tracks: “Pusher Love Girl,” “Suit & Tie,” “Mirrors,” “Let the Groove Get In”