18th Mar2013

Review :: Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience

by Ryan


Release Date: Mar 19, 2013

Oh the humanity! Why? Why!?! Why must my most anticipated releases this year be such a letdown?

I wanted to believe that “Suit & Tie” was just a fluke and that the rest of the album would be better. “Mirrors” made me believe this to be true. (Honestly, though, you’re best served to just go download “Mirrors” and ignore the rest.) I thought that the lackluster early reviews were just a bunch of haters.  I. Was. Wrong.

It’s not that this album is (or any of the other recent let-downs have been) BAD, per se. They have just been so forgettable.

Now, to be fair, I appreciate an artist who has the freedom to make the record that they have a vision for. There aren’t too many folks who have the opportunity to both make money and make art. Many forgo the dollars for the freedom (Derek Webb, Charlotte Church, Hanson). Others simply accept the money and make a life out of it (Justin Beiber, One Direction). But there are a few that languished through the shackles of a major label contract long enough to establish their own creative freedom with a fan base that will allow them to maintain their lifestyle (Green Day, Timberlake). So, I appreciate a guy who is making his own art and not someone else’s version of it. But that’s about as far as I’ll go.

One of my biggest problems with this record (and it may make me a “prude”) is the extensive use of drug terminology. Honestly, I can’t tell if he’s comparing his girl’s love to the effects of a drug, or if he’s so in love with his drugs that he’s singing them love songs.  “Pusher Love Girl” has a good flow to it and is fairly catchy, but it’s so ambiguous. Then the post-chorus tag is just blatantly drug themed. Even if he is singing about his girl, the explicit nature of the drug lingo blurs the line way too much. What happened to good, ambiguous drug songs that everyone could sing along to?

It took a good long while for his first two records to grow on me, so it may be the same with this one, but I’ve given it several listens at this point. Tracks 1 and 2 are at least somewhat catchy, then the next 4 songs basically just devolve. Yet, I can’t keep myself from grooving to them at points. I love the melodies and vocals, but the beats and lyrics are just so obscure or obtuse that they fail to connect with me. There’s a fun little one second N*SYNC throwback at the very end of “Strawberry Bubblegum” (Track 4). “That Girl” is a breath of fresh air in the middle of the record but it is oddly intro’d by a segment that better belongs at the beginning of the record – and it’s vastly inferior to the intro on Justified (“he’s a friend o’ mine” “yes, yes I am”).

“Let the Groove Get In” is a train wreck fit for Paula Abdul. I think there is a verse to it, but I can’t even make it out through all of the chanting. “Mirrors” is a near-masterpiece. I would hate the tag at the end if it wasn’t so darn endearing. (PS – Why does this track remind me of All-4-One?) But the record ends on a wandering, weirdness that seems to sample the sounds of a breathing machine and someone continually opening a cassette tape player (??).

I want to give this record the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe it is the misguided wanderings of a man who is so in love with his new wife (who will truly prove to be the “love of [his] life”) that he just doesn’t know how to express it fully. In a way, that’s beautiful. I’m afraid however, is that they guy just got in the studio with his buddies, got high, and said “that sounds good.” Surely, this latter roadmap has served many artists in the past and created many a masterpiece. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work here.

[UPDATE: This morning (3/18) Rolling Stone is quoting The Roots’ ?uestlove as stating that Volume 2 of The 20/20 Experience will be released later this year.]

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