If the title of Justin Timberlake’s new album sounds like a repeat, it’s because it’s the second half of its twin, another 20/20 released earlier in 2013.
Like that recording, this latest from the R&B star is an ambitious, sprawling effort that relies heavily on producer Timbaland’s electronic wizardry behind the mixing board.
Unlike that earlier segment, the sprawl of this recording results in overlong songs that are filtered with meandering sound effects. But there are some shining high points, reigned in by Timberlake’s sweet R&B tone and limber phrasing.
The 20/20 Experience is big, 3D and lushly layered and lyrically challenged. Despite Timberlake’s efforts, the lyrics are weak and uninspired. Heart and Destiny’s Child are ripped off and the profanity sounds weak. Say it like you mean it, man!
From that, the album’s character takes its cure. Timberlake’s songs rely too often upon the shifting scape of samples, voices, effects and beats.
True Blood is a vocal hook over an amorphous track populated by a lot of random information. At times it’s hypnotic, mostly it’s too long. It’s a question of whether the busy backing tracks overwhelm the song or the tune itself.
Cabaret has clever wordplay between Timberlake and rapper Drake, but TKO suffers from overkill and an overlong display of bells, whistles and BS that merges into Mariah Carey-land.
Timberlake invokes Michael Jackson with a vengeance on Take Back the Night, an upbeat bop track that recalls the bright ambiance of Thriller. JT has fun and the tight arrangement allows him to really work the track and belt it out.
Murder is an entertaining display of vocal acrobatics from JT and a humorous rap from Jay Z, riffing on the The Beatles. Drink You Away is electronic country/R&B with a snaky hook and forgettable lyrics.
The slick R&B that Timberlake calls home appears in songs like Amnesia that hint of deep moods but are hamstrung by boy band rhythms. Can some body bring in a drummer once in awhile?
The biggest departure on The 20/20 Experience is a dark electronic rock song, Only When I Walk Away. It’s a subdued, menacing track that dwarfs the songs around it. Timberlake’s voice is distorted and passionate, sounding like he’s listened to David Bowie’s Low album.
There’s a lot there… as for the rest, it’s uneven. But if you listen beyond the bombast, there’s a soulful singer.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician and freelance writer who reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star.