Tag Archives: FutureSex/LoveSounds

ALBUM REVIEW: Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience, 2 of 2

Are you Experienced?

Are you Experienced?

Stream The 20/20 Experience, 2 of 2 via iTunes.

Just a six months ago, Justin Timberlake blasted onto the Billboard 200 at #1 with The 20/20 Experience, selling 968,000 copies in its first week. As if this wasn’t enough, now he delivers a second album this year, the second half of that Experience. Unlike its partner in crime, The 20/20 Experience, 2 of 2, is a more contemporary affair, filled with a much more hard-hitting urban sound rather than the breezy nature of the last album. Still, there are a few lighter numbers and pretty love songs to appease you. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

On the A side:

  • C-C-C-Changes in Genres: The most notable change between these two eras is that there’s a little more experimenting of this half, which results in a mixed bag. One of the standouts is “Drink You Away”, with its poppy-sounding arrangement that verges on late 60’s/early 70’s psychadelic music, particularly with the prominent organ. However, Timberlake also seems to channel a Raphael Saadiq/D’Angelo style vocal as he sings, “I can’t drink you away/On these rocks, I can’t swim/Out of this skin I’m living in.” “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” is essentially the “Don’t Hold The Wall” of this album, with an animalistic feel and spacey vibe out of the 90’s, complete with samples of elephants and birds, oh my. No wonder that he, himself, wants to get animal: “Take me to your jungle, I’m not afraid… come here, gimme what I don’t know/I want.” I also enjoy the reggae influence and knocking beat on “Only When I Walk Away”, as well as the pop/rock “Not A Bad Thing”, which is the direction Timberlake should be going in in the future.
  • Dark Side of the Tune: Timberlake and Timbaland work best on some of the darker ditties, which seems to be a common theme at least on the first half of this. “True Blood” is a modern-day take on Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller”, an air of mystery surrounding it. The nine-and-a-half minute song is too long (it held my attention for the first five minutes) but it does several things really well, including that prominent guitar solo and the eerie violin reversed for even more effect. Timberlake attempts to do his best Vincent Price (I give it a C), but it is one of the more inviting songs on the album and is perfect with Halloween next month. In the same way, “Murder”, featuring Jay Z, is a hot banger flourished with the occasional brass boost. Yet, its lyrics are rooted in an evil woman on the prowl: “Ooh, that girl is murder/Everybody get down.” The rap break is actually enjoyable too, as Jay name-checks John Lennon, Yoko Ono and The Beatles. These are probably the two most inspired and best-sounding tracks on here and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them becomes a single at one point.
  • Vulnerability on Vinyl: Saying that Timberlake thinks highly of himself is an understatement. Now, whether you call that confidence or cockiness, I’ll leave that up to you. However, it is nice to see him leave that on the back burner enough to be a little sensitive. Ballad “You Got It On” shows this tenderness off nicely, which verges into R. Kelly‘s steppin’ songs for a hot minute, but is also very much Timberlake. It’s a little old school for his younger listeners, but at the same time, it’s a heartfelt ode dedicated to his wife, Jessica Biel. The same is true of hidden track “Pair Of Wings”, with an understated guitar and vocal arrangement, a nice change of pace as Timberlake goes down the James Taylor/Jim Croce route. No wonder it isn’t listed just because it’s so different. He coos, “We keep getting older, the world keeps getting colder/Tell me when did we lose our way? … But if I had one wish, I know what I’d wish for/There’s only one thing that would do/I’d fly away on this pair of wings with you.” Hello! It’s sentimental enough without getting too cheesy. That’s the way to do it.

On the flip side:

  • Tiring of Timbaland (and Timberlake): The main criticism of this album, and I think enough people have already picked up on this, is that the Timbaland production sound is already starting to get really old and isn’t too much different from what we were hearing on FutureSex/LoveSounds back in 2006. “TKO” could have been on there; same with “Murder”, as well as “Amnesia”. It’s tired. There’s nothing new to discover. It’s likable to an extent, especially “Murder”, but some of these songs sound so phoned in that it’s frustrating. Timberlake’s songwriting is also not where it needs to be at this point in his career, and although it’s never been his strongest suit, there are some cringeworthy lines that just ruin the experience. This is a line in the song “Cabaret”: “I got you saying Jesus so much, it’s like we’re laying in a manger.” That’s an actual lyric, people. Stop the madness and stop getting trying to get your sexy on, you two. Go ‘head, be gone with it.
  • Song That Go Too Long: The interludes. Cut the interludes already. Some of them, especially the one on “True Blood” which extends it over nine minutes, are unnecessary and clog up the album. I don’t want to go on for too long about this since I already complained enough about it on the first album, but really? Since when do album cuts nowadays go six, seven, even nine minutes in length? I guess I wouldn’t have a problem with the concept so much if the ones on this album had some substance and weren’t just for show. You can still be a real artist without making things crazy long. I know Timberlake’s made some comments in the past about figuring out the single edits after the album is done, but why not be more conscious about it in the process? I’m just glad that this isn’t going to be a trend. Otherwise, everyone would be zoning out sooner rather than later.
  • RCA = Really Can’t Articulate (A Strategy): This whole era had some major problems which I think prevented it from being just a little bit bigger than it could’ve been. First of all, whomever decided to rush release a second part of the album in September to get it eligible for the GRAMMY Awards only to find that RCA didn’t submit the individual packages as entries and bundled them up needs to be canned. Whenever that person decided that, you ultimately didn’t factor in that “Take Back The Night” would be treated as a third radio single and not a first, and because of the hesitance radio had with “Suit & Tie” for a number of weeks before it went top ten because of the sound, it was doomed from day one. “TKO” is a forgettable followup single that, again, radio can’t behind fully because your editing skills need some improvement. Then again, maybe the men behind the song are responsible for that. Also, what was with not releasing the radio edits, or 7″ edits if we’re truly talking, of the songs digitally? Those single sales would’ve been so much higher. I could go on and on, but man, if only I was in charge… I guess I’ll have to daydream away on that one.

Verdict: At this point, I’m not ready to make a call on which of these two albums is the stronger half, but I guess I’ll sum it up this way: this may be The 20/20 Experience, but the vision is still cloudy. If having 20/20 vision means you have a normal vision, then with all the blurring of music tastes wrapped in two albums, I’m totally lost. This isn’t even a half-throwback, half-modern sort of album. Both parts of the era are so equally unbalanced and unfortunately, on the whole, that leaves this Experience as less than satisfying in the end result. Don’t get me wrong, this album is still worth a listen and purchase for everything that does it right. There are some really well-constructed songs. Next time around, however, I would suggest that Timberlake works with other producers and focuses on writing more quality material than leaving it up to the arrangers and musicians to save these songs. It was a nice try, it really was, but pack that top hat and shined shoes away for a while after the tour is over. You won’t realize it now, but we’ll all be thanking you for it later.

Download: “Drink You Away”, “Murder” (featuring Jay Z), “Pair Of Wings”, “Take Back The Night”, “True Blood”

Stream The 20/20 Experience, 2 of 2 via iTunes.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

He's a Soul survivor.

He’s a Soul survivor.

Stream The 20/20 Experience via iTunes.

Listen to singles “Suit & Tie” and “Mirrors”.

Hungry for some new tunes from Justin Timberlake? You may as well call this stoned soul picnic, because he’s ready to serve it down. The 20/20 Experience is Timberlake’s first album in nearly seven years and he’s ready to bring SoulBack this time around. With a lush orchestra, production by his pal Timbaland, and a fresh falsetto, it certainly sounds good on paper. Is the Experience worth it? Read my review and let me know your thoughts on the album.

On the A side:

  • Authenticity: Call it what you want: Blue-eyed soul, white soul… Timberlake is an expert at the sub-genre. Not only can he execute a contemporary urban sound, but he’s also able to transform his image back to the 70’s and give the listener an authentic old-school R&B recording. Whether it’s shades of Al Green and Prince found in “Pusher Love Girl”, a near-sample of The Stylistics‘ “You Are Everything” at the end of “Spaceship Coupe” (it actually samples “Baby Let’s Rap Now” by The Moments, see below), the blissful Staple Singers inspired “That Girl” or the Michael Jackson‘s Off The Wall flavor in “Let The Groove Get In”, he knows his roots and displays them without disappointment. You’re certainly going to be enraptured in this LP if you’re a fan of the Motown sound and the fuller arrangements of that era. While songs like the two more obvious singles, “Suit & Tie” and “Mirrors”, as well as the jungle fever of potential club-banger “Don’t Hold The Wall”, don’t exactly follow this formula, they mesh well enough to be enjoyed by a wider audience. It’s a good balance in terms of eras and paying homage to them through Timberlake’s artistry. It’s an artist’s record. That’s something that a lot of people can’t say they did.
  • Timbaland’s back: Just when we thought he was over, ding dong, here comes Timbaland knocking at the door. This is probably the most creative he’s been as a producer since at least Shock Value II, but definitely since FutureSex/LoveSounds. There’s something about this combination of he and Timberlake that really produces some magic. All his beats are on point. I can’t really think of a track that I dislike entirely. He’s best with his more modern-sounding affairs like the electronic “Strawberry Bubblegum”, the classic “Tunnel Vision” and the poppy “Mirrors”. It’s a step in the right direction for the producer, who hasn’t seen any big action on the charts in years. Will this help put him back as the most sought-after producer and arranger out there? Time will tell. It won’t be as easy for him this time around, but I’m sure he’ll be putting in a few more hours at the office.
  • It’s all in the details: I guess the ironic thing about The 20/20 Experience is that its title is misleading. Though it would imply that it gives you a complete vision of something, it actually doesn’t, which isn’t bad at all. It has to do with the idea of the background instrumentation and the amount of layers in each song. You’re bound to miss something along the way on the first listen, but identify it on the second listen. It may be the crescendo of a string section, a key change or a beat-boxing moment that you didn’t realize was there before. This notion will probably be a little more obvious with a physical edition of the album, especially a version on vinyl with its enhanced sound quality. There are highs and lows out there that you still haven’t picked up on yet. It’s really neat.

On the flip side:

  • Song Length: This is probably the biggest reaction to the album, but on the standard edition, only one song is under five minutes in length. (The two bonus tracks on the deluxe edition from Target are just under it.) This isn’t something new; in fact, a lot of his prior album, FutureSex/Love Sounds, had the same sort of interludes and extended outros in the song structure. However, that album didn’t seem to drag as much as this one does. The twelve tracks on that album ran a little over 66 minutes compared to the ten tracks on this album that run about 70. Point is, with seven tracks over seven minutes long, this is not an album for the typical pop consumer. It gives it a pretentious and unlikable quality, as if he and Timbaland purposely wanted to extend songs just for the hell of it. I mean, come on now, I could have used an extra track or two. Queen and Pink Floyd may have made long songs, but not on every single album of theirs. I’d like to think Timberlake, as a pop artist, has an obligation to record some radio-ready material that’s actually radio-ready in all aspects, from sound to length, on something that’s commercially available to the masses, even if it’s going to be a largely artist-driven album. That isn’t present there. Maybe he thinks an exclusively R&B singer now. Who knows?
  • Lack of Uptempo Songs: Perhaps more puzzling to me is the choice to provide us with a collection of songs that are slower and midtempo numbers. “Let The Groove Get In” is essentially the only uptempo, fast and furious song on here, and thus, it’s one of the highlights for me. It’ll likely be the third single just because it genuinely sounds like a pop hit, albeit with a radio edit. I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind it, but it definitely contributes to the snail’s pace of the album. There should have been a few more to break things up, but the sequencing as it is doesn’t work for me right now. “Blue Ocean Floor” is confusing as a final glimpse of the album; it’s a good song in itself, but after so many long and drawn-out ballads, do I really need to hear another one? It should’ve at least been a mid-tempo song, or even a reprise of “Pusher Love Girl” for all I care. Instead, this Titanic of an album aptly ends with a few gurgles of water and a sinking ship.
  • Timberlake as a Lyricist: Just… stop. “Spaceship Coupe”? Really? I think one of the big issues I have with the album is that it totally relies on Timbaland‘s production, which is fantastic, but the words themselves are just not doing it for me. Now, granted, he won’t ever be Bob Dylan, but there’s nothing I’m particularly invested in with it comes to Timberlake’s lyrics. He can basically sing anything and get away with it. I wish there were more stories behind the songs, or at least a little more personal reflection on his behalf. It’s sort of all been said before, and even when he tries to be a little more inventive, it comes off as flimsy.

Verdict: Though the album is a cohesive effort that Timberlake wanted to make, I don’t know if it was necessarily worth the seven-year wait for his fans. The hype behind it will lead to some strong opening weeks, but beyond that, a lack of mainstream single choices will probably bring it down. The dated sound and song lengths don’t help either. If the album is meant to appeal to an older audience, then it’s achieved its goal. If the album is meant to bring an urban revival to popular music for all other artists to follow, I don’t see that happening. Maybe some acts will include a more big band sound in their tracks, but they surely won’t run more than four or five minutes and the pop audience will get tired of them quickly before moving back to bubblegum and electro-pop. Personally, I enjoyed the effort. As I mentioned before, it’s a detail-oriented release, so you won’t necessarily have the same Experience during the first listen as you will during the second. He shines when he shines, but it’s not the same as the days of *NSYNC or Justified. The 20/20 Experience isn’t a complete mastering of a concept album, but it’s as close as he’s going to get, so it should be celebrated for what it does right. After all, it’s not every day that a Justin Timberlake solo album comes to rock ‘n’ soul.

Download: “Mirrors”, “Pusher Love Girl”, “Tunnel Vision”

Stream The 20/20 Experience via iTunes.

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TEARIN’ UP MY CHART: The Return of Justin Timberlake (“Suit & Tie” + “The 20/20 Experience”)

He drives himself... crazy.

He drives himself… crazy.

EDIT: Both titles have been CONFIRMED. Check out a followup post here.

(EDIT: Myself and the members of the Pulse Music Board are guessing, based on Timberlake’s webpage, that the leadoff single from his album, which we think is entitled The 20/20 Experience, is a song called “Suit & Tie”. Timberlake has also tweeted out the hashtag #YouNeverKnow in reply to several tweets, as well as “AND, AS LONG AS I GOT MY SUIT AND TIE…”  and “I’MA LEAVE IT OUT ON THE FLOOR TONIGHT.” Is this the chorus of the single? Everything will be confirmed on Monday morning.) (My original tweet.) (Followup on PMB.)

Alright, calm yourself down, Pop fans. You still have a few days before the new Justin Timberlake track premieres, which is rumored to be featuring Jay-Z and Beyoncé. The song, which will make its debut on Monday at 12:01 AM, according to his website, will be the leadoff single from Timberlake’s forthcoming studio album, due in 2013. It is produced by Timbaland. (View the semi-announcement video here.) Before the song makes its glorious debut on the internet, let’s take a look at how the singer came in and dominated the music world.

Timberlake began in the boy band *NSYNC, who first broke onto the American scene in 1998 with hits like “I Want You Back” and “Tearin’ Up My Heart”. It was the group’s second release, however, that launched them into superstardom. No Strings Attached, released in the spring of 2000, sold 2.43 million copies in the first week and nearly 10 million before the year was done, and this was all in the United States alone. “Bye Bye Bye” and “It’s Gonna Be Me”, the effort’s first two single, became huge #1 hits on CHR radio. Though their followup, Celebrity, didn’t do nearly as well as its predecessor, it still kept the band on the charts and doing well at a time when the boy band bubble burst for acts like 98 Degrees, the Backstreet Boys and others.

By the end of 2002, Timberlake had gone solo with Justified, which debuted at #2 on the album chart. Lead single “Like I Love You” showed a more urban side to the singer, but it was further singles “Cry Me A River” and “Rock Your Body” (#1 at CHR radio) that established him as a force at mainstream radio. He additionally provided the chorus on the first major breakthrough record for the Black Eyed Peas, “Where Is The Love?”, which hit #1 in 2003. Though the album’s promotion was done by late 2003, Timberlake managed to stay on the radio as a feature on singles by Nelly in 2004 and Snoop Dogg in 2005, leading to his eventual return in 2006 with the 80’s-inspired FutureSex/LoveSounds and the #1 hit “SexyBack”. The album debuted at #1 in September with sales just under 700,000 copies in its first week and produced six singles, four of which hit the top spot on mainstream radio: the aforementioned lead single, “My Love”, “What Goes Around… Comes Around” and “Summer Love”. A fifth release, “LoveStoned”, hit the top 5.

Timberlake’s been primarily focused on acting during the last few years, most notably portraying Napster co-founder Sean Parker in The Social Network. Though he’s collaborated with Ciara, Jamie Foxx, and T.I. in the past few years, Timberlake hasn’t been credit on a top-40 hit since 2010, so it shall be interesting to see if radio and retail was easily embrace him again as they did many years before. In the meantime, watch out for more news as it comes right here on POP! Goes The Charts.

EDIT: Both titles have been CONFIRMED. Check out a followup post here.

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