Album Review: Justin Timberlake – The Complete 20/20 Experience
On September 30th, Justin Timberlake released the second part of his album The 20/20 Experience. And since we didn’t review the first installment, now is the perfect time to review The 20/20 Experience: The Complete Experience in its entirety.
Justin’s duo of albums is best described as an experiment in the juxtaposition of sound. And it earns that description for a plethora of reasons. The most obvious reason is that each song is a 2-for-1 special, with flipped versions appearing at the end of each track. Look a little closer, and you’ll notice that the first installment is a much more laid back set in comparison to the upbeat tracks on the second installment. Even deeper than that though, the albums are decidedly R&B with a plethora of infusions. There is strong, heavy instrumentation fused with the full gamut of Timbaland errant sounds, beeps, and blinks that have become a hallmark of the producer extraordinaire.
On album one, which I affectionately refer to as the “grooved out” Justin, we get a set that matches the singles that have been burning up the charts this year. “Pusher Love Girl“, “Suit & Tie“, “Tunnel Vision“, and “Mirrors” perfectly characterize the album. Timberlake takes what has been done before in the eras of music then flips it on its head, making it both modern and new.
With “Spaceship Coupe” and “That Girl”, he takes old school Motown influences and mashes them together with fresh bass lines while “Don’t Hold the Wall” and “Let the Groove Get In” take tribal drums, middle eastern wind instruments, and strings to a new level.
The clear winners on the album are the anthemic “Mirrors” and the peaceful, serene, and penetrating “Blue Ocean Floor“. On “Mirrors”, which Justin claims is an homage to his grandparents timeless love, Justin delivers his best vocals of the album, and he achieves a musical transcendence that is not met anywhere else in this set. This is immediately followed up by “Blue Ocean Floor” where Timberlake, unencumbered by production, displays the power of simplicity. This track also highlights the quality of lyrical content on the album, showing that JT is no one trick pony.
The bonus tracks “Dress On” and “Body Count”, while strong in their own right, just don’t rise to the occasion like the rest. But none of that really matters anyway. The album is a string of strong offerings that flows cohesively from beginning to end, and is musically heads and shoulders above anything else that has been released this year.
On part 2, the upbeat collection, Timberlake upgrades the funk factor and works to make some good ol’ feel good music. On the album openers “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” and “True Blood”, the bass hits a bit harder, and the lyrics are much more playful. “Take Back the Night” has a classic Michael Jackson touch that JT serves up right, and “Amnesia” and single “TKO” give a more mature “Cry Me A River” vibe, evidence of his evolution from his early years.
On “Cabaret”, Drake pops up for a feature on the smoothed out track. Justin Timberlake has never been the type of artist to rely on or ever need features on his track, but Drake’s inclusion feels organic and suited to the track. JT tries his hand at grown folks music with “You Got It On”, a “two-stepper” which classically would be something you would hear Charlie Wilson put out before Justin, but Justin’s falsetto floats over the track with the ease required for a song such as this.
The only miss on the album is “Murder”, a track that is incredibly musically complex in how it changes up the rhythm. Although another brilliant song, I fear that most will have trouble sitting in the pocket of the beat, and as a result, skip the track.
Further flexing his muscles, JT takes on southern blues, rock, and reggae with “Drink You Away” and “Only When I Walk Away”, and in a true testament to his versatility, both are successful. He is able to pull some grit from his gut to give these songs some weight, wildly different from a standard JT tune. And for those risks, it is debatable on whether or not his fans will enjoy the songs.
However, the album closer “Not a Bad Thing” is perhaps the biggest shocker. It is straightforward guitar/piano pop. No fancy production or effects. No vocal inflections. Just singing over a melody. And he does it again on a hidden track, “Pair of Wings”, which follows if you listen to the silence for a bit. In one of the few ballads of the album, Justin croons with a guitar and other stringed instruments backing him. And right there, Justin proves why no one else can do it like him.
In my mind, these albums are an homage to the illustrious career that Justin Timberlake has built. You can find musical inspirations for most of these tracks on his previous albums, however JT, not one to rest on his laurels, is constantly elevating his craft. In what I believe is a music first, Justin offers a flipped version of each track. And in many cases, the alternate version is stronger than the original.
You won’t hear an album like either of these this year or for many years to come. Like Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, this is a once in a lifetime work. Whether analyzing the musical intricacies of each moment or enjoying the symphony of brilliance on a road trip, this two-disc set is worth picking up.
Have you picked up The 20/20 Experience? What do you think of each disk?
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