14 March 2013
REVIEW: Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
One of the most struggling genres in music today, Rhythm & Blues, suffers from a similar plague that has become widespread; everyone striving to sound the same for a common goal. The "Rhythm" has become far more upbeat and predictable, while the "Blues" has been replaced with euphoric fist-pumping. Even though there is nothing wrong with an artist branching away from traditional norms, there is a problem when that tradition is abandoned for modern norms, killing the concept of being original.
One thing that has never been a problem for Justin Timberlake is existing within his own identity as an artist. Whether you classify his music as Pop, or R&B, the one thing that cannot be denied outside of his mass appeal is his ever-consistent originality. Since becoming a solo artist he has found his own voice, and with the help of The Neptunes on his first album, and Timbaland for the second go-round, has established a sound unlike anything seen in music today.
JT enlists Mr. Mosley again to help keep this streak alive with his third solo effort, "The 20/20 Experience." The results bear a striking resemblance to the overall sound heard on FutureSex/Lovesounds, which is in no way a bad thing. 20/20 is a bit more smoothed out than his previous effort, but it still has that same Timbo/Timberlake magic. Try to remember the first time you heard "My Love" on Futuresex. That's how I feel when I listen to "Don't Hold The Wall" off 20/20. I can't think of any other way to describe this record other than to say it's a straight BANGER. Timbo drops hard 808s over an ethereal middle-eastern sounding beat full of what we've come to expect from him, while Justin effortlessly coasts over the track with a melodic staccato flow.
The second half of this song, as is the case with several other songs over the course of the album, sounds drastically different than the beginning. People might be immediately turned off by the fact this album only consists of ten tracks, but once they delve into the heart of the project, they come to find that there are no shortage of songs in the 7-8 minute range. In fact, 70% of the songs on this album come in two flavors which tend to switch up at the halfway point. It makes for an interesting dynamic, mainly because it feels like you are getting two songs in one. The entire album still clocks in at over an hour in length, so there's no reason to feel short changed. Nearly every song is quality.
The album starts off incredibly strong and is consistent with upbeat songs and smooth ballads throughout, but the biggest misstep lies with a song that was actually released as a single recently. "Mirrors" is a very ho-hum pop record that is reminiscent of that "other" Justin. It simply is not an accurate representation of the calibur of music heard throughout the rest of the album. But being an 8+ minute song, it gets the Jekyll & Hyde treatment as well, with the second half being superior, but still not good enough to be a single. It's hands down the worst song on the album.
When you put "The 20/20 Experience" up against albums from other artists that compare to JT, the most noticeable difference is the lack of a slew of techno-infused fist-pumping anthems that have become commonplace on most "R&B" albums. Even if you are quick to write Justin Timberlake off as a worthless pop artist, there is something to be said for staying true to your own sound. Even artists like Usher can't say this anymore, and many hold Usher in a higher regard. I personally feel like JT surpassed Ursh with the Futuresex album. And after hearing Usher's most recent trash, Justin may have solidified his spot at the top of the roost. There are plenty of hits on this album that could and should supplant "Mirrors," but only time will tell.
I always classified Justin's music as soul with mass appeal. Neo-Soul purists would scoff at that comment, and your average radio head lacks the musical ear to comprehend what soul music even is, but that's how I feel about this album and his music in general. It's a welcome change of pace to what's out there right now from those who would be considered competition.
And to that other guy out there who just so happens to bear the same name, the "real" Justin is definitely back.
Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience drops on Tuesday, March 19th.
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