Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One

16. Justin Timberlake
The 20/20 Experience

If anything, Justin Timberlake's disappointing second volume of The 20/20 Experience only served to emphasize the greatness of the first. While The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 was the sound of aggressive, club-ready libido, the original waxed sentimental about the comfort and leisure of a Sunday afternoon spent in the company of true love. Amid woozy strings, chimes and spacious production, Timberlake coos about getting high on love, pledging his devotion and seeing only his object of affection when he looks around.

To critics of the album, it might sound like newfound romance has quelled the ambition that birthed sprawling FutureSex/LoveSounds, but 20/20 is the sound of a man confident enough to let a groove ruminate and sink in, even if it's more bedroom- than arena-sized.

Which isn't to say that The 20/20 Experience doesn't have grand ambitions — on single "Mirrors," Timberlake turns a lyrical ode to symbiosis into a multi-layered epic — but overwhelmingly, it's about smaller, more intimate moments: the sparse, ticking "Strawberry Bubblegum" is boyishly lusty, playfully teasing a girl about popping the titular candy, while the gorgeous "Blue Ocean Floor" brings the album to a gentle, sparkling denouement.

On The 20/20 Experience, Timberlake proves that big budget pop music, ever the domain of ham-fisted club bangers and teary piano ballads, can be executed with a fine brush, too; all he needed was love. (Stephen Carlick)