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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Justin Timberlake is back in a big way on ‘The 20/20 Experience’

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    Remember when ‘N Sync ruled the world? Neither does Justin Timberlake, whose newest record The 20/20 Experience has more in common with Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and other “mid-career reinvention” records than the pop hooks that made him famous.

    Last time we heard from Timberlake, he was already transforming his brand of pop music into something that required an entirely new portmanteau to describe: “SexyBack.” Yet in terms of artistry, The 20/20 Experience outpaces even the wildest moments of FutureSex/LoveSounds.

    Except single “Suit & Tie,” every song on here features sprawling soundscapes courtesy of Timberlake’s co-producers Timbaland and Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon, often blowing past the seven-minute mark with tracks that function less like pop songs and more like suites in a symphony.

    Rather than complicating things, Timberlake’s new long-form approach actually works quite well in tracks like “Strawberry Bubblegum,” where a jazzy coda of electric keyboard and fuzzy synthesizers rescues the floundering first half of the song.

    Stellar opener “Pusher Love Girl” features a similar shift, moving the slow-burning bounce of the first five minutes into a vocoder outro that somehow improves on an already-fantastic track.

    Timberlake also totally sells the Afrobeat of “Let the Groove Get In,” which ultimately plays better than most Western appropriations of world rhythms do. It’s tricks like these that make 20/20 something of a standout for Timberlake, landing him in the arena of adult-oriented art pop rather as he moves away from the fun but conventional structures of his previous albums.

    Of course, one could argue that for an artist like Timberlake, who has remained squarely in the public consciousness for all of his adult life, it may not be easy to refresh his image. For all its leaps and bounds, 20/20 still has enough filler to indicate that Timberlake might not be entirely ready to let go of his blue-eyed soulfulness.

    Next to stupendous tracks like “Pusher Love Girl” and lounge-song extraordinaire “Spaceship Coupe,” hit single “Suit & Tie” sounds downright lazy, as it doesn’t quite manage to shed the tiresome pop tropes of Timberlake’s past.

    Other small problems persist as well, such as the odd “Don’t Hold The Wall,” which attempts to pair the nightmarish atmosphere of a Frank Ocean or The Weeknd song with Timberlake’s boyish and lighthearted vocals.

    As much as Timberlake has made a name for himself in a surprisingly lucrative acting career and as everyone’s favorite Saturday Night Live host, that fun, anything-goes attitude can’t quite sell the gravity of “Don’t Hold The Wall”’s harrowing drug narrative. The saving grace of “Don’t Hold The Wall” comes in the form of an ecstasy-fueled end that reiterates just how often 20/20 favors its production over Timberlake’s presence.

    Its few misses aside, 20/20 does justice to Timberlake’s fame as a solo artist.

    In typical showman fashion, Timberlake makes sure that the end of his album plays as well as its beginning, ending with the beautiful “Blue Ocean Floor,” a track built around a sample of backwards guitar and twinkling harmonies.

    The 20/20 Experience is proof enough that Timberlake has earned his reputation as one of the last superstars of 21st century pop music. Whether The 20/20 Experience Part 2 really comes out in November like he promises, or it tkaes another seven years, it’ll definitely be worth the wait.

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