Thursday, March 28, 2013

Album Review: 'The 20/20 Experience' (Grade: A-)

In an era where the genre of R&B is surely experiencing an eclectic evolution, particularly in male R&B -- i.e. Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Miguel, and even Future -- one would have to put forth a concerted and distinctive enough effort to divert listeners away from the wave of today's male R&B spectacle. For the artist formerly known as the leader of N Sync, making a triumphant return to music after a seven year hiatus meant somehow succumbing to the modern appeal while hanging onto the funky and hip Justin Timberlake that earned solo success with songs like "Sexy Back" and "Rock Your Body". The funk came with the early release of "Suit and Tie" featuring Jay-Z, the catchy and sophisticated swing-track that will, "show you a few things". Along with "Pusher Lover Girl", a more blues-oriented record for JT to floss his soulful side, we were formally introduced to the experience at the 2013 Grammy Awards where he performed both songs. We have since learned that 20/20 is a collectively shining example of musical efficacy, due large in part to the depth and layered substance of each record.

At it's core, The 20/20 Experience is essentially an album of luscious love songs comprised of vivid melodies, hooks, and breaks, but it does succeed as more than that. The Timberlake-Timbaland magic is resurgent in spurts -- Timbo's trademark drum patterns and beat-boxing breakdowns are most blatant in "Tunnel Vision", where JT uses some bravado to describe the angst of a one-woman fixation. Timbo's presence is warmly felt on "Don't Hold The Wall" as well, 20/20's most vibrant dance record with a breakdown that could have clubs calling fire departments. The party themed "Let The Groove In" brings a more trendy vibe, and starts the process with percussions and horns while JT uses melodic phrases as the party host to instigate an all night galavant on the dance floor.

The pure love songs are what give 20/20 it's true complexion, and are formatted with innovatory themes and graceful panache. We delve into the cosmos with JT's two-seated "Spaceship Coupe", where he serenades about his "space lover cocoon" and making love on the moon. Slowly becoming a fan favorite is "Strawberry Bubblegum", JT's best debonair using an analogy to dedicate the succulent record to an intoxicating girl. "Blue Ocean Floor" exists as 20/20's most emotional ballad. Tampering with "frequencies so low" and "rain made of echoes", the sounds are best described as a sonar-induced white noise as JT reaches us from beneath the surface. "Mirrors" gives subtle reminiscence of "Cry Me a River", but is far more intimate than vengeful, "Girl you're my reflection, all I see is you". Not as fully captivating as it's peers, "That Girl" is more of an acquired taste, but does give another funky love ballad.

What gives The 20/20 Experience such a commanding impression is it's ability to live up to it's title. Great albums are marked by the overall experience of listening to them. An album of mostly love songs is framed by Timberlake with eloquence and swag, adding dimensions to his delivery and production that only magnify the experience. Whether it's the delicate "hey" ad libs in "Strawberry Bubblegum" or the harmonious "all night long" interlude at the end of "Let The Groove In", what you appreciate about 20/20 is the demand for full intake of every record in it's entirety, or you miss out on some aspect of the experience. The presence of JT's producer-in-crime Timbaland is spirited but not smothering, as Justin Timberlake has surely proven his timeless value in an evolving genre.

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