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Justin Timberlake

The 20/20 Experience

Justin Timberlake
7
Okay, Mr. Timberlake, you have our attention. The 20/20 Experience (his third studio effort and first in six years) is the pitcher of water handed to those who've staggered though the mainstream pop desert desperately seeking something to quench their R&B-lite thirsts. As an artist and now multi-hyphenate media personality, he presents a unique specimen, mainly because there exist R&B/soul artists who have been, and are currently doing, the same type of material that's on this album, but who lack the label backing or mass pop appeal. But to say the response to first single "Suit & Tie" was tepid would be charitable. The Robin Thicke-esque number (complete with sedate Jay-Z bars) clearly wasn't the "what will he come up with next?" sound the masses were anticipating. "Mirrors" fared marginally better. The question now becomes: what were we expecting? An artist of Timberlake's stature inhabits that rarefied "I have nothing left to prove" air, meaning it's either the law of diminishing returns or a hard turn towards experimentationville. Timberlake clearly chooses the latter here. It's an interesting approach: ten tracks of Pink Floyd-esque, "seven minutes or more" runtimes, fresh-yet-familiar production from Timberland and musical mash-ups (Afrobeat, R&B, electronica) out the wazoo. Think late '90s neo-soul, as performed by Timberlake. If anything, it's aurally fearless (see "Blue Ocean Floor" or "Strawberry Bubblegum"). It's not about if this album is any good — Justin's vocals are on point (as usual), the production is solid (a given) and it's clear that this is more than a mere vanity project. The issue is whether he's done enough to quench our R&B-infused pop sensibilities; he hasn't. The needle may have jumped a bit, but ultimately nothing here turns things over. (Sony)
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