Few artists hold such significance that they halt the public’s conscious when their album drops. The type of distinction that demands all other musical interests momentarily yield. An importance that could lead to alienation if you don’t immediately listen to this shit. The category’s population can probably be counted on one hand. Radiohead comes to mind, but you and I both know people that insist on hating them (Fuck those people, by the way). Perhaps Kanye, but hip hop is so segmented that no one rapper can dominate the landscape. Maybe there’s only one left.
Is there anybody on the planet that doesn’t like Justin Timberlake’s music at this point? I can picture a number of people that would insist on apathy, but there’s no escaping it. Remember “Hey Ya”? Of course you do, what a dumb question. The thing about “Hey Ya” was that anybody who said they didn’t like “Hey Ya”, was full of shit. The 20/20 Experience is kinda like that.
Which caught me by surprise when I saw the length of this thing. I like my full lengths 50 minutes or shorter, so dropping an album that clocks in just over 70 minutes is like asking for a really inconvenient favor. In my opinion, this could have been 20 minutes less and just as great. That’s not my only knock on it either. I could talk about how his genre catering (particularly hip hop) seems derivative and forced. I could even mention how I’m tired of his beat boxing. Seriously If I had a friend that beat boxed this much, I’d ask him to knock it off.
But Godamn, this album is good.
Perhaps we’ve become so familiar with JT, particularly in his acting roles, that when he’s singing to us it conjures immediate images. This album is full of imagery, and it’s sense of adventure never wanes. We get to witness “JT and the Tennessee Kids” command a wooden stage at some dive on “That Girl. “Let the Groove Get In” feels like a rooftop party from one of those Corona (Or Heineken) commercials. The back half of “Strawberry Bubblegum” feels like he’s luring the listener into his living room with pure unadulterated charm. And then there’s “Spaceship Coupe”. I’ll say this about the track — you can certainly break the possible monotony of Barry White-esque romance soul when you whip in a little sci-fi. The song is lovable, if not a bit laughable with lyrics like “Tryin to find the alien in you/if it’s coo(l)” and an extra juicy guitar solo pulled off an early Prince album. There’s literally robot moans near the end. JT is funny, but we already knew that.
The vocals are obviously perfect on this album, but Timbaland has really outdone himself on 20/20. Standouts “Dont Hold The Wall” and “Tunnel Vision” add depth to a body of work that’s incredibly distinctive and consistent. This stuff isn’t so far removed from old Aaliyah tracks, and it’s never going to get old. They’re incredibly busy, building layers of creative percussion, from vocal samples, to breathing, to crickets. Of course he always leaves enough room for his own voice to creep in the background like some kind of demonic hype man. Timbaland has mastered the production table, and it’s clear his work is approaching timeless.
As if that wern’t enough, he’s a match made in heaven with Timberlake, who rides his beats with a percussive diction that’s capable of keeping even the longest of tracks consistently satisfying. “Mirrors” and “Blue Ocean Floor” are my two favorite songs on the album, and provide an incredibly emotional sendoff. The former provides the albums’ nearly overwhelming peak while the latter comes off as intensely personal, with a track that sounds something not so far removed from Sigur Ros’ (). He finishes with a true step forward, a glowingly bold move for somebody who spent the last 6 years dancing in place.