First he was a child star, then the breakout singer of a multi-platinum boy band, then a solo artist, actor and entrepreneur.
Now, in 2013, we find the 32-year-old Justin Timberlake in an R&B/pop stage, and his album The 20/20 Experience is only his third in 11 years. Though he was still at the forefront of the public consciousness, he returns to the music scene six years after FutureSex/LoveSounds with longtime producer/collaborator Timbaland at his side.
The album begins with an orchestral crescendo in “Pusher Love Girl,” displaying a more mature start than “Señorita” off of 2002’s Justified. Through a played-out metaphor, Timberlake likens his loving affections to a drug addiction. For the first five minutes, he creates soulful harmonies and solos over himself before a bridge leads to a much more rhythmic section.
Because of the song’s distinct parts, it could be split in two, establishing a trend that continues for the entirety of the album. Much like Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, soundscapes and vocal interludes are frequently used to combine two songs into one.
The first single, platinum “Suit & Tie,” was released Jan. 14 and topped the charts within hours. Timberlake’s soothing falsetto makes up for one of Jay-Z’s worst rap verses to date.
“Tunnel Vision” focuses Timberlake’s vision on a female, probably his wife, Jessica Biel, and features some of the album’s best production, with Timbaland using vocal percussion similar to “Cry Me a River.” The ending instrumentals highlight why Timbaland is one of the best producers — the music could stand alone without Timberlake’s vocal melodies and inversions.
As the title suggests, the album’s main lyrical themes revolve around optics and perception, like the second single “Mirrors.” The song’s chorus outshines the rest of the album — it is lengthy, tender and infectious.
The album ends with a relaxing ballad “Blue Ocean Floor,” consisting mainly of backmasked synthesizers and the orchestral melody introduced on “Pusher Love Girl,” proving that what goes around comes around.
It’s not all incredible, though. With an average length of seven minutes, the 10 songs are full of musical twists and turns. The biggest question being: is the length necessary? Some songs like “Strawberry Bubblegum” have a less-than-subtle bridge, and what comes after it doesn’t add anything spectacular. Even the best track, “Mirrors,” falls prey to this problem, with a drawn out a cappella bridge that repeats the cheesy line “You are the love of my life.” The radio edits will undoubtedly shave off the excess minutes of many of the songs.
It’s the record of a pop artist attempting to redefine himself through a triumphant return against grandiose expectations. It plays a little overly ambitious, but Timberlake will hopefully work the formula out, and is rumored to have plans to release a second volume of The 20/20 Experience later this year. Regardless, the album solidifies Timberlake and Timbaland’s continued domination of the modern pop scene.
“And I’ll be here till the colors fade/And I’ll be here till your dying day,” sings Casey McPherson on Bloom’s lead single “Sing Loud,” ensuring us that he will never stop making music. Austin’s own Alpha Rev lists 13 former members, but McPherson’s determination results in the band’s third alt-rock release. Caught somewhere between an unhurried Coldplay and a less mainstream Of Monsters & Men, Bloom is an atmospheric, well-produced record that Austinites can be proud of.
Printed on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 as: Timberlake focuses musical vision