Justin Timberlake has been away from music for a while. It’s been six and a half years since the release of his last album, the excellent and widely popular FutureSex/LoveSounds. Thus, Timberlake can be forgiven for trying to pack his follow-up, The 20/20 Experience, with as much music as possible. The ten tracks on The 20/20 Experience average seven minutes in length. While some of the songs are better suited to such extension, others sound as if they’re long just for the sake of being considered “ambitious.” Take opener “Pusher Love Girl” for example. After five enjoyable minutes, the track seems to come to a natural close. However, the song instead continues with an unnecessary three minute coda. While still a great opener, it could and should have been trimmed down.
The songs on The 20/20 Experience can generally be broken into two categories: futuristic pop excursions and soul and R&B throwbacks. “Don’t Hold the Wall” and “Tunnel Vision” fall into the former category while “Strawberry Bubblegum,” “Spaceship Coupe,” and “That Girl” fit more into the latter. Lead single “Suit & Tie” straddles the line between the two by combining the sounds of soul and hip hop. The song is hurt slightly by Jay-Z’s mediocre verse, but his appearance is the only significant guest vocal on the album.
The album ends with its three best tracks. “Let the Groove Get In” uses a samba-like rhythm and catchy melodies to make it the most danceable track here. Next up is “Mirrors,” the album’s second single. Possibly inspired by Timberlake’s wife Jessica Biel, this uplifting love song could have fit on FutureSex/LoveSounds. Like “Pusher Love Girl,” however, its second half should have been trimmed down. The 20/20 Experience closes with the excellent “Blue Ocean Floor.” With Timberlake crooning over what sounds like a song playing in reverse, “Blue Ocean Floor” wouldn’t seem out of place on a Radiohead record. The song has an almost haunting quality to it. It certainly stands out among the rest of Timberlake’s work and is one of the best songs he’s ever done.
Although it ends strongly, The 20/20 Experience is sure to disappoint some fans. Those looking for immediacy and accessibility will likely balk at the complex, seven-minute songs that comprise most of the record. This is an album requires multiple listens to fully reveal itself. But once given enough time, The 20/20 Experience becomes quite a treat. It’s not as good as FutureSex/LoveSounds, but it signals a new direction for Justin Timberlake, one that pushes boundaries and challenges the listener. It will certainly be interesting to see where Timberlake goes from here. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait six more years this time to find out.