The 20/20 Experience (RCA Records, 2013)
Produced by Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon
Reviewed by Chris Ho
Lights up on stage right. Trails of cigarette smoke. Stage curtains drawn, revealing the dapper string section of the orchestra. May I present to you: The 20/20 Experience.
The first track instantly introduces the glamorous 1950s New York throwback, which is then infused with the familiar R&B pop sound that is unmistakably Justin Timberlake. And with some exceptions, the mixture of these elements essentially encapsulates Timberlake’s latest album, The 20/20 Experience.
Having been on a musical hiatus for six years, his highly anticipated comeback couldn’t have been classier. If painting the town with your friends in a stylish suit and tie getup wasn’t already on your list of priorities, it soon will be. Timberlake brought sexy back with the previous record FutureSex/LoveSounds, and now, he’s bringing classy back with The 20/20 Experience. In particular, “Suit & Tie” grooves in a way that could only be suitable in a select number of clubs. The clean and soulful sounding vocal melodies are paired with relaxed, finger-snapping beats, and topped off with a classic interjecting trumpet line. It seems as though Justin Timberlake disappeared from the music scene, only to reappear with a newfound Sinatra-esque edge, and an old big band to back him up. And yet, somehow, his music seems even more original (and perhaps experimental) than ever.
Timberlake has always tended to instill his work with a generous amount of vocal layering and pleasing harmonies, but never before like this. Between the strategically placed string parts, interesting electronic sounds, and soft backup vocal lines, the production of the album puts the listener in a head-bobbing trance. The brilliance of this comes in the fact that it’s difficult to pick out the specific musical elements that create this effect, because it’s ultimately the overall exceptional production as a whole that does it. Although, at the same time, the interesting electronic sounds found in tracks like “Blue Ocean Floor” and “Dress On,” certainly seem to stand out in a very tangible way.
An album that incorporates very classic musical elements while staying true to the artist’s creative integrity and trademark style generally tends to be audibly enticing. Such is the case for Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, which gives us the familiar, the old, the new, and then some. The particularly striking tracks include “Suit & Tie,” “That Girl,” “Pusher Love Girl,” and “Blue Ocean Floor.”
Chris Ho is a UVic graduate and Victoria-based singer-songwriter.