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ATP! Album Review: Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

It’s amazing to look back on Justin Timberlake's career. We’ve seen him side-by-side in matching double denim with Britney Spears, we've seen him dance with crazy ramen hair in *Nsync and we've seen him suited and chained rapping about dicks in boxes on SNL.

When the world was deeply blue when the news of *Nsync’s farewell came, Timberlake fans were pleased with both his Justified debut and sophomore FutureSex/LoveSounds. And now, the time has come for the next chapter in Timberlake’s discography as The 20/20 Experience hits shelves. Naturally, there was a massive amount of hype riding on this album, but the final product lives up to every bit of it (and then some).

When listening to 20/20, it's obvious that Timberlake does not want you to simply listen to these songs. He wants you to be submersed in them. With only two clocking in under six minutes, each track is handcrafted to stand on its own. These songs were not made for radio, not made by guidelines or pop-song structure, but made to simply please the ears of Timberlake fans (and Timberlake himself).

The album begins with melodic strings that are immediately fused with a soft background bass departing from his previous record, which began with a confrontational bass-line that forced the listener to dance. The opening track ‘Pusher Love Girl’ plays through almost like a poem, with a seemingly stereotypical concept of “your love is my drug”. However, Timberlake is able to take the sleaze out of this pickup situation and put the listener in a state of bliss with his smooth vocals and overall suave feel to the song. Unexpectedly, the song takes a one-eighty and drops into a pseudo-trap jazz outro with a rap on the side, setting the mood for the album as a less of a club banger but more of a sensual sway with your dance partner.

The rest of 20/20 follows the trend of ‘sensual partner swaying’. The chart topping ‘Suit & Tie’ shows the fun side of the album. It’s not a song that’s looking for extreme analysis, but rather to be enjoyed with friends in the car or on the dance floor after a hard day of work. As long as people look their best, nothing is getting in the way of their night.

Following tracks like ‘Don’t Hold the Wall’ and ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ are the listener’s first exposure to the separate worlds Timberlake created for each song. ‘Don’t Hold the Wall’ is the closest the album comes to heavy dance tracks from FutureSex, but it is ambient and slow enough to not blend itself with his previous tracks. ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ takes us back to Justified with smooth vocals and seductive beats with an explicit edge. Lyrics like “I’ll be your blueberry lollipop / and I’ll love you till I make it pop” are subtle but are kind of distracting from the sensual and suggestive tone of the song.

The whole concept of the album comes together in ‘Spaceship Coupe’. The R&B beat is the epitome of sensuality and makes you want to spoon with that special someone. Timberlake sings “Hop into my spaceship coupe / There’s only room for two” on top of soft electro and Sanatana-esque guitars that give an euphoric effect to the listener. It captures the album with seven minutes of affectionate lyrics and monumental composure of sound.

After the snuggling, ‘That Girl’ and ‘Let the Groove Get In’ literally put the listener in a dance club on an exotic island. Listening to these songs places you directly in a movie scene shot in a Cuban club. A specific point of reference, sure, but Timberlake is able to create this exact feeling in the songs with a talking intro of his “band” and colorful sounds that remind you of every opening band you have ever seen.

My favorite part of this album was ending, but not in a bad way. The song ‘Blue Ocean Floor’ was a personal favorite because, like ‘Spaceship Coupe’, it captures the theme of the album but this time with less sensuality. ‘Blue Ocean Floor’ will, like his previous songs, literally put you in this setting. The ambient sound of the song made me feel like I was swimming. With lyrics reminding me of the serenity of water and the feeling that time stops gave the song a remarkable beauty for me that must be listened to in order to understand. The song closes the album with strings to bring the work full circle.

Justin Timberlake did not just give us an album, he gave us a superior listening experience. The 20/20 Experience immerses the listener in to what Timberlake has grown in to; a caring, married man who has found out what love is. The album is filled not just with songs, but with stories. Timberlake pulls it out of the bag every single time, and if his track record is anything to go by, the hype for his follow-up will be, as it always is, entirely justified.


Jordan Wyman

The 20/20 Experience will be released on March 19th via RCA Records.

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