Look, before we even get into it I’m going to address the delusional elephant in the room. Yes, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience is in reference to me. As I’ve mentioned an infinite amount of times on Twitter and in all past articles about one of pop music’s most versatile figures, Justin Timberlake and I are married. In fact, we’ve been married for a long time. So, it just so happens that since my music and musings are released under the moniker 2020k, he figured it’d be a great and romantic ode to me if he named one of his records after me. A record that Timberlake lovers have waited an almost rockin’ seven years for. If you’d like, you can learn more about and hear the music that inspired every note on this record by clicking here.
…April Fools, guys. Come on…
Okay, so now that we have all of that information sorted, the only thing that’s 100% true in the previous paragraph is that we have waited almost seven years for a new Justin Timberlake album. In that time though, we’ve at least gotten somewhat of a fix. You’re going to tell me you didn’t like him as Sean Parker in The Social Network or when his speeches at the MTV Video Music Awards basically bashed the network for their skewed view on what music television actually is? And his glorious Saturday Night Live & The Lonely Island appearances? They’re great, solid, entertaining pieces that sincerely show an artist having fun with his career and pleasing the fans while he branches out into other realms of the industry. We all know this though. Every single one of us. But, still, for seven years we’ve begged for new music.
Now, we have it: The 2020k Experience. Oh, shit, excuse me…The 20/20 Experience. And what’s better? This is only volume one of music. ?uestlove of The Roots has confirmed a second volume of music to be released in fall of this year. Considering this March released record debuted at the top of Billboard’s charts with a stunning 968,000 copies sold, it’s safe to say the anticipation for the second installment is present and ready.
For now, what we have is seventy nine minutes and twenty-three seconds of hook-heavy, funked out, smart pop music.
Where to start on The 20/20 Experience is to keep in mind that the Timberlake/Timbaland collaboration hasn’t withered in the slightest. All songs on the standard edition of the record have been produced by Tim and with Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon lending a helping hand, these come across as Timbaland’s most ambitious beats and creative production strength since his massively successful 2006 year with Nelly Furtado’s Loose, and Timberlake’s previous record FutureSex/LoveSounds. The majority of the songs, in fact, are a great continuation of Justin’s previous record, as there are a lot of key changes and interestingly long song lengths. Where this was semi-explored on FutureSex/LoveSongs, the abrupt change in songs were treated as interludes, whereas the derivatives on this record are streamlined and meant to be one uniquely produced track. At times, there also seems to be layered vocal layers that sound in dedication to Aaliyah records (Timbaland worked quite closely with Aaliyah throughout the bulk of her career) or the more layered portions of a Janet Jackson album track.
In terms of looking back at Timbaland’s many signature styles, the Bollywood sampling in which he’s has taken on throughout the start of his career is also present. “Don’t Hold The Wall” displays this sort of tight rhythmic structure with Indian vibes, but first starts with the Timberlake a cappella, in which the Aaliyah reference is blatant. As the song continues on with it’s eerie jungle vibe, there’s a darker moment within it at four minutes and twenty seconds. A sampling of a woman saying “Well, how do you like it?” plays amongst an extremely low-end kick drum and synthesized stab. “You shouldn’t have to ask me that question” Timbaland responds as delay bounces through the stereo mix. Some of these same themes are also semi-explored on “Let The Groove Get in,” but with “…Groove…” containing more of a Michael Jackson vibe than anything.
However, while the two mentioned tracks contain a wonderful dance vibe, there’s not a strong low-end presence that brings the mix of the song together as a whole. Unfortunately, this happens for the bulk of The 20/20 Experience. While there are a million aspects of compositional genius on all parts of rhythmic and melodic content, there’s no underlying bass line, pad, or anything that holds everything together as a group. Instead, at times, the songs sound disgruntled, as if they’re still in band rehearsal, as opposed to being ready to assault their audience.
Continuing through the dark sonics that the record seems to explore, “Strawberry Bubblegum” stands out as the epitome of the more Electronic portion of this exploratory effort. It’s extremely pop at heart, with the bridge oozing with the intimate lines “So tell me you wanna get close somewhere far away. Don’t worry ’bout your lovin’, it won’t go to waste. And don’t ever change your flavor cause I love the taste. And if you ask me where I wanna go, I say all the way,” but rides above hip-hop beats and ambient sounding pads, string samples, and vinyl crackling. Later in the track, a complete beat change transpires, lyrically relating to the NSYNC hit “Pop” and goes in for a more smooth, contemporary R&B vibe for it’s close.
As a whole, the lyrical content of The 20/20 Experience doesn’t explore polished themes as suggested by the marketing, live performances, and overall look of this era form Timberlake, but instead focuses direction on light subjects that sometimes come across as bourgeois and simplified. “Hop into my spaceship coupe, there’s only room for two (me and you). And with the top down, we’ll cruise around, land, and make love on the moon. Would you like that?” While it’s not the most thoughtful album, it’s the content and style that this pop veteran has come to be known for since his days in boy band NSYNC, so it’s not particularly a big surprise that the writing on this 2013 release isn’t much to touch.
It is nice, though, to be reminded that the production, song structure, and overall composition are very nice. In complete compliment to “Spaceship Coupe”, the following one, “Tunnel Vision” contains some of the most lovely synthesized work on the album. Sixteenth notes, live played, travel down the snyth throughout the song.
Where this record as a whole gets it 100% correct is on the closing song of The 20/20 Experience, “Blue Ocean Floor”. Timbaland pulls out reversed synthesized and piano bits, creating an ethereal vibe that sounds as if it’s been plucked from Orka Veer’s discography [Bandcamp] and interpolated into the atmospheric wave, pelican, and closing cassette player sounds. This closing track shows Justin’s third solo release for what it was originally intended to be: music you can see. You can see this not only with your mind, but hear what’s going on through the created space. There’s also no need for an abrupt change in it’s musical structure, so while there’s a fake-out fade in the latter half of the track, it smoothly swells back to where it originally stood. It also has a wonderful dynamic range of 9dB average.
Lyrically, this track gets it right as well with the first verse beginning “Frequencies so low” and melancholically continuing “Heart on a string, a string that only plays solos. Rain made of echos, tidal wave rushing on and on.” While the average listener isn’t going to imagine sound waves with the first line, it is a smart opening lyric that blossoms into a brighter picture with it’s following lines. “Blue Ocean Floor” surfaces this sort of positive, honest song craft through the entire seven and a half minute run, making it the most noble song of the 10 standard tracks, and even stands above the extra two on the deluxe edition.
All in all, considering the interesting pop-soul vibe created through “Pusher Lover Girl,” “That Girl,” and “Suit & Tie,” the Coldplay/Hurts lament on the second single “Mirrors,” and all genres thrown into this record, and even considering it’s kind of modest dynamic range, it’s a very solid effort. The 20/20 Experience may lack some of that 20/20 vision (in which 2020k is more than happy to make up for with him while we still got our dress on), it creates a sort of visional pop spectrum that is not explored on most mainstream, major label, Top 40 releases.
Well, how do you like it? We’re looking forward to the next installment.