You've been streaming it for a week now, but today (March 19) Justin Timberlake's new album The 20/20 Experience is available for purchase.
Was it worth the seven-year wait?
I couldn't tell you (a.k.a. RCA has given me no financial incentive to do so). But I'll say this: 20/20 is both very similar and very different from anything you've heard (or seen) from JT thus far.
Let's begin with the visual element: in the promotional features on his amusingly interactive website, Timberlake claims the album's title emerged from the "visual nature" of the sounds he was creating, precipitating the concept of "music you can see."
This is reflected in his associated imagery: both his Grammy performance and music video for lead single "Suit and Tie" display a distinctive visual theme.
Lots of suits and ties, obviously. But more significant is the jazz band - black & white aesthetic, cuing a smoky 1960s nightclub vibe reminiscent of old Louis Armstrong or Frank Sinatra performances.
Strangely, these influences aren't consistently reflected in the music. "Suit and Tie," "That Girl," and arguably "Pusher Love Girl" are the only songs that explicitly match the imagery, lending a dose of stylistic inconsistency to the proceedings. If the visual design so thoroughly reflects a certain aesthetic, why do only three (out of ten) tracks express it?
Photo Credit: Billboard
So clearly this isn't a bunch of throwback sounds. This can largely be attributed to the production: Timbaland, the Bollywood-sampling hip-hop futurist beat maker responsible for much of Missy Elliot's output, as well as Timberlake's own, has his hand in every single track. If the visuals don't match the music, at least the music matches itself: from one song to the next, we're treated to a rich sonic landscape, a polished, synth-infused, deeply layered, and often funky mix of laid back grooves and slightly more danceable fare.
As a result, the album is Timberlake's least likely to pack the dancefloor. It's more Frank Ocean than Michael Jackson.
But does it work?
For the most part, yes. JT has consistently proven himself to be an astronomically talented performer, whose mass appeal and booming record sales speak to his relentless popularity. And far from the sprawling sonic exploration that characterized FutureSex/LoveSounds, 20/20 is a more focused and subdued effort.
This is often a good thing. Much has been made lately of artists failing to create complete "albums," favoring disjointed collections of singles and filler instead. This will not be said of 20/20: while it will produce successful singles (the eerily "Cry Me a River"-esque "Mirrors" comes to mind), this works better as an album than a group of individual tracks.
Photo Credit: Idolator
But it can also be a curse. 20/20 starts to lose steam a little over halfway through, and never recovers. The tracks are consistently six minutes or longer, and after a while you start to get the point. It's a matter of time before you find yourself saying, "Enough is enough."
Now that Timberlake has announced the inevitable release of a 20/20 sequel, it'll be interesting to see if we get a new sound and style, a contrasting companion piece, or simply more of the same.
If the first two are true, then there's significant reason for excitement. If not, The 20/20 Experience will certainly stand alone as a more than serviceable effort from a richly talented pop star.
In the grand scheme of things, that's not bad at all.