Justin Timberlake is a savior amongst the entertainment industry. Ok, that may be dramatic, but did you enjoy an episode of SNL when he wasn't hosting? Didn't think so. We've seen him go from that platinum-frosted, curly-haired kid in the ultimate boy band to a pillar in the most unlikely genre, hip-hop. As the music scene moved on, so did JT. While we loved his movies, well the later ones (remember Alpha Dog?), we missed his music. He brought sexy back (ha!) in 2006 and then let sexy get ruined by the likes of Justin Beiber. Now, a mere 7 years (which feel like an eternity) later, JT roared back, in that roaring '20s way, with the ultimate 20/20 Experience.
The album's lead single, "Suit and Tie" is an R&B romp that echoes a little Prince and a little Marvin Gaye. Complete with a verse by Jay-Z, the song is "classy" in the sense that it's slick, from production to lyrical delivery and overall sound. It's by no means grand, as Timberlake leaves that to other tracks on the record, but its up-tempo slow burn proves that the Experience isn't a race, but a marathon.
The record is glued together with brilliant use of horns and band orchestration, much like the opening credits of an Irving Berlin love story. Timberlake establishes himself as the band leader, the Sinatra or Martin of the millennium. As one track melts and forms another, a funk riff turns into a Moroccan-style drum beat like on "Don't Hold the Wall." His long-time collaborator Timbaland lends his strengths in sound manipulation to each track, turning a soft lullaby into a stomp-along, punctuating beats with narration. "Strawberry Bubblegum" and "Spaceship Coupe" project the album as a live album, conjuring the black and white images Timberlake wants into the minds of the listener. A true manifestation of sounds and self, what Timberlake and Timbaland have is special, if not as innovative as one would like.
The record seems effortless in its intricacy, making no effort to produce a mainstream club banger, yet that makes all the difference. "Tunnel Vision" and "Let the Groove In" (in all its Gloria Estefan-esque, Latin glory) reflect the passion of the old JT, the dancer, arguably the ultimate performer of the past decade. But where 20/20 Experience shines is Timberlake's magnetism and unabashed celebration of love and marriage (kudos, Jessica Biel, kudos). It's gentle in its encompassing neo-soul atmosphere, but packs a punch in Timberlake's passionate and captivating croon.
Yet, not even the return of Justin Timberlake is perfect. Even at its most diverse moments, and maybe Timberlake's most artistically reaching moments, it falls. This is not the record where eventual hits are going to reach out and grab you. And while this approach may be new for Timberlake, the sounds itself are not. And as the end nears, Timberlake himself sounds to get bored with the fading, sounds-like-it-should-be-an-Imogene Heap-lullaby, "Blue Ocean Floor."
It's a solid return for pop's renaissance man. It's familiar yet refreshing in a time where dubstep and dance-pop have been ruling the air waves. It's pure and intimate in ways that pop culture hasn't seen or heard in awhile. If a funky, soul injection was all we needed, I'm glad it's Justin Timberlake who's supplying. **8.5/10