I try to avoid writing album reviews for many reasons. In fact in the near three years of this blog's existence I have actually posted only one other album review about the Jay Z/ Kanye collabo "Watch The Throne" back in 2011. With all of the buzz,hype, and billboard breaking records surrounding this long awaited album I figure I'd listen to the 20/20 experience from a non biased standpoint in order to provide a true musical critique.
So where exactly to start? I suppose at the beginning would be just a good a place as any other. Before I sit down to review an album I follow a specific basic, yet time consuming regime. I actually listen to the album in its entirety three times. With song length averaging close to six and a half minutes long the ten track album provided me with a 4.5 hour JT marathon listening session. Timberlake seemed to face the same situation that many R&B artists face when creating new material for an upcoming album: what do I talk about? The dangerous question artists must answer in releasing follow up albums is whether they use the same formula and topics that brought them great success on their previous albums, or do they veer left and face the chance of a crumbling career. Somehow JT managed to give us a little bit of both worlds while avoiding simply repackaging what we've already expected from him or the radio.
"The 20/20 Experience" carries us through our normal share of sexually charged drug referenced innuendos, love ballads, and party/club anthems. So what makes this album different from any other R&B albums? The same thing that makes anything different from anything. It's not what you say, or what you talk about but how you say it, how you package itm and how you roll it out. Justin Timberlake and Timbaland have indeed renewed their signature sounds with drums and horns over those tight beats that we loved on "Future Sex/Love Sounds". Tracks like "Don't Hold The Wall" and "Let The Groove Get In" bring us right back to the "My Love" vibe we could not get out of our heads back in 2006. JT did manage to still show musical depth and growth on tracks like "That Girl" and "Dress On" while he effortlessly croons over their melodic jazz and blues under tones.
However with all the great theatricality and show stopping he has put and will continue to put into the videos, performances, and I'm sure in the upcoming "Legends" tour with Jay Z there is one thing missing from the "20/20 Experience". The vulnerability and passion that came along and through the music with Justin's ballads on "Justified" and "Future Sex/Love Sounds". While we may see the old Justin come through in live performances the recorded ballads on the album do not bring forth the emotion that Justin is trying to elicit from songs such as "Space Ship Coupe" or "Strawberry Bubblegum". While we generally received less ballads than we are accustomed to on this album the only two that come close to his previous successes are the recently released single "Mirror" and "9 Blue Ocean Floor". I do not suggest going into this album looking for anything parallel to "Cry Me A River", "Never Again" or "What Goes Around…". I guess it would only make sense as Justin is in a much different place in his life therefore his topics and expressions of them would have to differ as well. We would just hate to see Justin lose the battle against his musically emotional and vulnerable competitors such as Robin Thicke, Miguel, and Frank Ocean that bring forth just about every emotion passionately on 99 percent of their songs ballad or not.
Overall Justin Timberlake did what he set out to do and provided the listeners with a musical experience unlike anything we are currently bombarded with on the radio. I wasn't blown away or impressed but the music did spark, capture, and manage to maintain my intrigue. This is an album I will recommend to others and play during morning commutes. Is it a classic album? I wouldn't say so, but it is a pleasant listen and a breath of fresh air from the nonsense we've been receiving lately from entertainers.