It’s been 7 long years since Justin Timberlake blessed us with his exceptional FutureSex/LoveSounds. Many of us (myself included) probably just assumed that with his solid jump to film and his brilliant turns on SNL that our days of pumping up new JT were long behind us.
But he decided to come back, and in the grandest way possible. With an announcement back in February that he would be dropping his new album, The 20/20 Experience, in March, we began a whirlwind journey from dramatic website announcement video to sexy first single “Suit and Tie,” to his triumphant return at The Grammys and SNL.
So what do we really think of The 20/20 Experience? Many are whining that it’s a mistake, that he should have just stuck to his pop roots and given us another “Sexy Back.” I disagree. Musical evolution is necessary, and Timberlake has embraced that ideology through and through, and with fantastic results.
Granted, I’m a little biased; I’ve always always adored JT and pretty much found him to be one of the hardest working, likable guys in the biz. Regardless, I was prepared to judge very harshly when this new album dropped. And at first listen, I thought it was good, but WAY different than what I was expecting. Having now listened to it 10+ times, I can safely say that it’s pretty darn phenomenal.
The 20/20 Experience is leaps and bounds different than his previous endeavor, FutureSex/LoveSounds. Whereas that album was about 25 year olds and skinny jeans and slick pickup lines and sweaty makeouts on the dance floor, The 20/20 Experience is about 33 year olds, tailored suits, declarations of love, and babymakin’. There is no question his music has evolved from radio-friendly pop hits to can-be-radio-friendly-but-he-doesn’t-really-care-one-way-or-the-other soulful anthems. His Memphis roots shine through brilliantly, particularly on the brilliant “That Girl,” where his Tennessee Kids join him for a knee-slapping good time.
More apparent here are passionate, soulful stories to be told. These tunes are lyrical and catchy, because of course they are, but they’re also deep, meaningful proclamations of love, desire, and class. The 20/20 Experience has more jazz and R&B influences than his previous work, and it’s exemplified especially well on tracks like “Blue Ocean Floor,” “Suit and Tie,” “Strawberry Bubblegum,” and “Spaceship Coupe.”
But don’t get me wrong, his signature pop enthusiasm and charm are still present, but it’s less of his lingering early 2000 personality and more of his suave mature persona he’s developed over the past 7 years. Particularly reminiscent of FutureSex/LoveSounds are tracks “Mirrors,” “Don’t Hold the Wall,” “That Girl,” and “Tunnel Vision.” They’re catchy as hell, lyrically clever beyond anything on the radio right now, and body-moving in the best possible way.
The few new tunes that seem to be wavering in between old JT and new JT are “Let the Groove In,” a fast-paced tribal sounding jam, and “Strawberry Bubblegum,” a sexy slow-jam that’s just the perfect mix of pop and R&B. It’s damn hot.
The 20/20 Experience is different and fresh and so much more mature than his previous work, but for good. If you’re a loyal Timberlake fan, embracing his new sound won’t be that difficult for you. But if you’re expecting more “Sexy Back” and less “Let’s Get it On,” you might be out of luck.