I have to admit, after the lackluster release of the first single, “Suit & Tie,” I was a little worried when Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience didn’t pick up right away. The first half of the album is slow going, with brief but fleeting moments of the drive and sex-appeal that so characterized FutureSex/LoveSounds in 2006. A few of the songs read as little more than elevator music, and “Strawberry Bubblegum” even includes two minutes worth. The attempt at a new spin on pop/R&B with old-school big-band undertone is not lost on me, but what was lost was my interest about in the middle of “Pusher Love Girl.”
Thankfully, however, it picks up right around the halfway point, starting with “Tunnel Vision” and only getting better from there. JT’s lead vocals are as silky smooth as ever, showing a lot of restraint and control.
The obvious top spot goes to “Mirrors,” an emotional, sexy and multidimensional hit that speaks volumes of Timberlake’s maturity as an artist. Although we could do without the almost three minutes of “you are the love of my life” voice dub, Timberlake’s six note refrain toward the end of the song is heavenly to hear, especially when he pushes into that gravelly tone, making it obvious why women flock to his concerts in droves.
An unexpected second place is held by the last track on the album, “Blue Ocean Floor,” a Radiohead-inspired song that Timberlake stated was the most difficult to create. However, it appears that a few steps outside of the comfort zone is a great place for him. A flawless ballad lead vocal with an ethereal electronic background that conveys the sense of being underwater, this song is an absolute home run. The powerful and very old-Timberlake-esque bridge comes at exactly the right moment to ground the song. This closer colors the whole album with a sense of seriousness that lends itself to a different listen the second time around.
The biggest difference between this album and Timberlake’s 2006 smash is the content: the lyrics tone of The 20/20 Experience reflect an adult in a stable, healthy relationship, rather than the grittier, lustier party music of FutureSex, clearly the work of someone who was very different musically and personally seven years ago.
All in all, I say 15/20 for The 20/20 Experience. It’s definitely not a perfect album, but it has just enough goodies to make the fans and critics happy after a long wait.