The 20/20 Experience vinyl cover art

Record Review: Justin Timberlake – ‘The 20/20 Experience’

After a seven year hiatus, Justin Timberlake finally released a new album, The 20/20 Experience. He must have heard the cries after a PSA pleaded him to make music again. With such a gap in between albums, there is more hype about The 20/20 Experience than any other recent album release in recent memory, although the new Daft Punk album may give it a run for its money.

 

The first single off of the album, “Suit & Tie,” is a fun track but it didn’t really give me high hopes as it gave off the typical pop music “look-how-rich-and-suave-I-am” vibe. Thankfully, “Suit & Tie” isn’t reflective of the album as a whole. The sound and lyricism from The 20/20 Experience shows just how far Timberlake has come as an artist as well as a person. The new album, for the most part, gives off a vibe of a musician who’s comfortable in his own skin. Here’s why.

The album starts off with “Pusher Love Girl,”which features a swelling orchestral score and smooth bassline. Unfortunately, the orchestra sounds recessed and the vinyl sounds bass heavy. It’s a shame that the Benjamin Wright Orchestra is pushed to the background because the orchestra plays beautifully. Even though I am using my “bass light” Grado RS2i headphones, the bass on the vinyl is so heavy that it begins to fatigue 2/3rds of the way through the album.
the 20/20 experience vinyl front and back

I find the “your love is a drug” metaphor trite throughout the album.

Mastering aside, “Pusher Love Girl” is a perfect intro to the “show” that The 20/20 Experience aims to be. Timberlake’s falsetto is still the star of the show and shows that he hasn’t lost any of his vocal ability. Still, I find the “your love is a drug” metaphor trite throughout the album. I can forgive it for the most part since songs like “Pusher Love Girl,” “Spaceship Coupe,” and “That Girl” are feel-good songs.

 

While most pop songs don’t exceed 4 or 5 minutes, Timberlake is confident enough in his musical ability to keep listeners engaged with songs pushing past the 8 minute mark. Many of the tracks on the album end with a sweeping outro, which may seem self-indulgent but it works. And while his previous albums were more about finding one night stands, The 20/20 Experience is about taking his time confessing his love to one girl, ending with the melancholy track, “Blue Ocean Floor.” It sounds like a post-rock composition that emulates the ethereal vocals of Sigur Rós.
the 20/20 experience vinyl art
One of the stand-out tracks on the album is “Tunnel Vision.” The song features complex layering with syncopated beats and a sweeping orchestral score in the background where repetition works very well. It’s an addicting track that gives the album momentum. While repetition works well with “Tunnel Vision” and “Pusher Love Girl,” its use becomes grating in “Don’t Hold The Wall” and “Let The Groove Get In.” Both of these tracks feel completely out of place in The 20/20 Experience. “Don’t Hold The Wall” just doesn’t fit thematically. If The 20/20 Experience is supposed to show how JT has grown as a man and musician, “Don’t Hold The Wall” completely nullifies that argument. The songs leading up to “Don’t Hold The Wall” were about how he’s in love with this one girl who makes has him high on her love but this track shows us a faceless girl he sees at a night club. There’s no love, just dancing.

It’s an almost pleading and desperate confession of loveBy the end of The 20/20 Experience, listeners definitely get a feeling that JT has evolved. This is an album where he feels that he can experiment with new things but still shows that he can pull off the music that he’s known for with songs like “Mirrors” and “Suit & Tie.” The final song on the album, “Blue Ocean Floor,” is the most daring track on the album and offers an appropriate closing track for the album. To me, this is the most emotional and raw track on the album. It’s an almost pleading and desperate confession of love with the pre-chorus which goes “And under the water you scream so loud but the silence surrounds you. But I hear it loud and you fall in the deep and I’ll always find you.” I love the layering in this track too. There’s a beating heart as the bassline, a lonely piano melody, vocals that fade in and out, and distant sounds of seagulls. It reminds me of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where Joel is desperately trying to save his memories of Clementine in a collapsing beach house.

 

The 20/20 Experience is a great album, even though it has its fair share of musical and mastering missteps. Timberlake shows his evolution as a musician who’s not afraid of deviating too far from the pop music formula. Still, not every song on the album is a hit. “Don’t Hold The Wall” and “Let The Groove Get In” hold the album back musically and thematically. It’s a solid album with solid sonics and for most JT fans, that will be more than enough to deem The 20/20 Experience a success. Weeks after its release, I still find myself revisiting the album over and over again.
the 2020 experience final score

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