Timberlake still has it with new album

By Jake Reed

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Justin Timberlake foreshadowed the electro-pop craze of the early 2010s on his last CD “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” and on “The 20/20 Experience,” he outpaces the pack yet again. Featuring Timbaland’s smoothest production since the mid-2000s, Timberlake mixes R&B and soul with forward-thinking synths on one of the best pop albums in years.

The LP finds Timberlake imagining himself as the frontman of JT and the Tennessee Kids, an orchestral band that has joined him for recent performances on the Grammys and Saturday Night Live. From the strings on “Pusher Love Girl” to the brass ornamentation of “Suit & Tie” and “That Girl,” the band will certainly come in handy when the Timberlake brings “20/20” on tour this summer.

Unlike a typical pop album filled to the brim with 3-minute radio-ready singles, seven of the ten tracks on “20/20” surpass the 7-minute mark.

“If Pink Floyd and Queen can do 10-minute songs then why can’t we?” Timberlake said in an interview with UK radio station Capital FM.

In some cases, Timberlake and Timbaland strike gold, while other tracks are less deserving of their added length, dragging on after the first three or four minutes.

“Pusher Love Girl,” the album opener, has a great chorus and showcases Timberlake’s falsetto. Strings and funky guitars carry the song’s drug metaphor, with the singer proclaiming that he is “just a junkie for your love” in the song’s skittery second half. Lead single “Suit & Tie,” a ubiquitous hit, sounds great in the context of the LP. While its several tempo changes felt jarring at first, they allow the song as much sonic variety as the rest of the album without extending the song past six minutes.

“Don’t Hold the Wall” is one of the album’s best tracks, featuring the sound of crickets chirping and a sampled Middle Eastern-inspired female vocal. Timbaland’s repetition of the title is one of the best parts of the song and the producer’s most prominent vocal presence on the disc. “Let the Groove Get In” is another album highlight, with its funky dancefloor-ready percussion and trumpets recalling some of Michael Jackson’s greatest works.

“Tunnel Vision” is another interesting track, featuring a pitch-shifted, stuttered vocal sample and a bubbly synth line. “That Girl,” one of the album’s most clear odes to wife Jessica Biel, sounds fresh, mixing classic Timbaland syncopated percussion with live horns and guitar. “I’m in love with that girl, so don’t be mad at me,” Timberlake sings.

While most of the album is strong, well-written pop, it has its weak moments as well. Despite its burning guitar solo, “Spaceship Coupe” doesn’t quite earn its over seven-minute running time. “Strawberry Bubblegum” and “Blue Ocean Floor” fall in the same boat, with the latter’s reversed synth line and lack of percussion growing old before it’s even halfway over.

The second single, “Mirrors,” is the strongest songs on the set. The track is classic Timbaland and Timberlake, coming off as a fresh update on 2003’s “Cry Me a River.” However, rather than telling off a cheating ex like he did in “Cry,” Timberlake exalts Biel, calling her his “mirror staring back at me.” It starts off as an R&B power ballad, complete with big vocals and bigger synths. Timbaland tones the production down for the song’s second half, reducing the track to simple, futuristic sound as Timberlake sings, “You are the love of my life.”

While not every song on “The 20/20 Experience” will score with casual listeners, fans can look forward to another ten songs when the album’s second volume is released later this year, presumably in time for the holiday shopping season.

Jake Reed can be reached at [email protected]