Album Review: Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience

When I was in elementary school, my physical education experience, while standard in many aspects, required all students to gather on the blacktop at least 3 times a week and learn to dance. Aside from a fantastic medley of country songs, pop boy-band ‘NSYNC, which was at the height of their popularity, was also a constant choice amongst the athletic coaches. Within my social circles, we all despised ‘NSYNC and constantly complained about having to dance to this dreaded music. Justin Timberlake was primarily at the receiving end of our animosity, continually being the subject of elementary schoolboy satire, but I must emphasize, we all really did like ‘NSYNC, we just would never admit it. I am now older, perhaps a little more secure and confident, and I can now admit I like Justin Timberlake and enjoy his music. However, my enjoyment of Justin Timberlake music aside, his latest release, The 20/20 Experience, while a welcomed change in sound from previous Timberlake albums, lacks musical variation within the album, suffers at times from horrid lyrics, and features a few throw-away songs; although I do recommend a listen of The 20/20 Experience, I can’t do much more.

The 20/20 Experience opens relatively strong, with the initial track Pusher Love Girl, a slow, diverse R&B song, serving as an effective platform for the rest of the album, and a transitional piece to perhaps the most well-known single, Suit and Tie. Suit and Tie, while not as catchy as 2006’s SexyBack, documents a successful growth within Timberlake’s music, with the appearance of Jay Z confirming The 20/20 Experience to be a more mature project. And in many aspects, maturity and growth dominate the album, as Timberlake, heavily distanced from his promiscuous, all-denim wearing days, now boasts of marriage, old love, and women wearing ball gowns. I do not see this change as problematic, but in some instances, Timberlake seems torn between channeling his new sound along with consolidating the past pretensions of “Future Sex/Love Sounds.” Lyrics such as “Stop, let me get a good look at it. Oh, so thick, now I know why they call it a fatty…” result, highlighting Timberlake may no longer be the same artists who once readily claimed to be the force behind the resuscitation of sexiness.

Past Pusher Love Girl and Suit and Tie, the album predominately maintains consistency, yet suffers to truly expand musically past the tone set in the initial songs of The 20/20 Experience. In this sense, every track sounds similar to the next, and while that’s not entirely a negative aspect, a diverse array of songs would obviously be more effective. In moments when Timberlake does in fact attempt to broaden his sound, tracks such as Don’t Hold the Wall and Let the Groove Get In are enlisted, but these songs hold no cohesive place within the album, serving as misplaced filler tracks. Essentially, The 20/20 Experience is a listenable paradox, in that it suffers largely due to the fact that it maintains too similar of a sound throughout, yet when Timberlake diverts from this format, the album fares worse. Gone are irresistible songs such as Cry me a River and My Love, but Timberlake, in my opinion, is indeed transitioning musically in a positive direction; it is just a long, arduous process that he hasn’t fully realized. The 20/20 Experience is decent, even good at times, and the second installation of the album, which Timberlake plans to release in November, hopefully will avoid the redundant pitfalls of its first half, and expand upon Timberlake’s maturation and growth.