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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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Leaders Of The Club: The Mouseketeers Go Mainstream (Again)

Those Disney darlings.

Those Disney darlings.

20 years ago, three tweens auditioned for the cast of The Mickey Mouse Club and from then on, music history would never be the same. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake rose to the top of the charts in the heat of the late 90’s bubblegum pop explosion with hit albums and singles, eventually branching out into reality television, film and other endeavors. I was 3 in 1993 when the trio first made their mark on the Club; the show was done the next year (though I saw it in repeats) and I’m betting a lot of people didn’t think those performers would do anything substantial. Heck, The Party, the quintet formed from cast members in the early 90’s, had only one top-40 hit and they were done. No big deal there.

Something was different with Aguilera, Spears and Timberlake. The latter two joined groups; one flopped and one flourished. I think you know which one is which. The two ladies then pursued solo careers, all three became superstars, etc. That was then. I’m now 23, and all three of them are top ten on iTunes’ top-selling songs chart, the first time that this has likely ever happened, or at least one of the first. As of the early morning, Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” (featuring Jay-Z) stands at #5, Aguilera’s feature on Pitbull‘s “Feel This Moment” is holding down #8, and “Scream & Shout” by will.i.am and Spears is down to #9.

At CHR radio, “Moment” is the only one to not be within the top ten, but its large gains should put it there soon. (It’s currently #16; “Scream” is #4 and “Suit” is #10.) Since I like to focus on the radio aspect of the industry, I thought it would be interesting to point out the last time that all three singers were simultaneously in the top 40 and in the top 10 together on the format. Trust me, it’s been a while. Each singer has had their shares of ups and downs over the years, but this unification of the three so high on the charts nearly 15 years after each singer debuted at radio is certainly something to be celebrated.

According to the archives of Mediabase 24/7 data, this is the last published chart that all three singers appeared in together:

Mediabase CHR Chart – January 18, 2009
#04: Britney Spears“Womanizer”
#31: T.I. featuring Justin Timberlake“Dead And Gone”
#40: Christina Aguilera“Keeps Gettin’ Better”

In this example, Spears was on the decline after peaking at #1 for two weeks in late December and early January. “Dead” was in its second week in the top 40. The collaboration with T.I. would eventually peak at #4 in April. Aguilera’s “Better” quickly peaked at #11 for two non-consecutive weeks in late October and early November before quickly falling, though it spent several weeks in the 30’s (and this last week at #40) thanks to year-end chart airplay. All three would make the top 40 several times between then and their current songs, with Aguilera accumulating the last singles (2), followed by Timberlake (3; all featured appearances) and then Spears with 8. Often times, two of them would be in the top 40 at the same time, but nothing panned out between the three until now.

If you’re looking for the last survey where all three singers appeared as main-credited acts, then we’ll need to travel back even further to 2003:

Radio & Records CHR Chart – November 21, 2003
#11: Britney Spears featuring Madonna“Me Against The Music”
#15: Christina Aguilera featuring Lil’ Kim“Can’t Hold Us Down”
#40: Justin Timberlake“Señorita”

Spears once again comes in highest on this survey with her first single from In The Zone. It was at its peak, though it hit the #10 spot unofficially at midweek. Next release “Toxic” would return her to the top after a four-year absence. Aguilera’s song was trending downward after spending a month at #3 starting in mid-September. It was the fourth single from Stripped, the biggest of which was “Beautiful”, her fourth and last #1 on the CHR chart to date. This was the last week in the top 40 for “Señorita”, probably the least remembered release from Justified. It too was a fourth single, and spent two weeks at #5 in September. I wasn’t really a fan of it back in the day, though I’ve learned to like it over the years. He largely remained absent from the charts until 2006, then Spears had zero charting singles between late 2004 and late 2007, and Aguilera became really hit or miss after the Back To Basics era. In short, things didn’t match up until the beginning of 2009. You see how rarely these things happen.

Now, for the big question. When was the last time these three all appeared in the top ten together? Wait for it…

Radio & Records CHR Chart – June 16, 2000
#01: Britney Spears“Oops! I Did It Again”
#02: *NSYNC“It’s Gonna Be Me”
#09: Christina Aguilera“I Turn To You”

“You’re kidding me!” Nope, our three Mouseketeers haven’t been in the top ten together on the pop chart since the summer of 2000, nearly thirteen years. I remember it well. Spears was spending her last of three weeks at #1 with “Oops!” before Timberlake and his group would take over the #1 spot for six weeks. Both acts were riding high on albums that sold north of one million copies in their first week, with *NSYNC‘s No Strings Attached pulling in a record 2.4 million copies in sales during its first seven days on shelves. (Let’s not forget that a fourth member of the Club, JC Chasez, was also in the group.) Aguilera didn’t exactly see the same numbers, but her debut album put four singles into the top ten, “Turn” being her third. It peaked at #6 a few weeks earlier.

Do you feel old yet? I do. Those darn chart retrospectives. Hope you’ve enjoyed this look back in time and congratulations to Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake for lasting this long on the charts, together for what could be the last time. M-I-C… see you real soon with more chart stories. (Follow me on Twitter: @AdamFSoybel.)

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TURN IT UP TUESDAY: What’s New In Stores This Week (Jan. 15)

Sometimes you wanna go Ware everybody knows your name.

Home is Ware the chart is.

It’s that time once again! Here are the new releases out in stores on Tuesday, January 15:

  • My pick of the week is a digital-only EP: If You’re Never Gonna Move by British songstress Jessie Ware, a relative unknown in the U.S., though she’s had some international success in the past year. The five-track EP features one of her former singles, the title track (originally known as “110%”) and current release “Sweet Talk”, but I’m really intrigued by her take on the Bobby Caldwell 1979 classic “What You Won’t Do For Love”, which is given a 90’s experimental R&B-infused twist and remains just as smooth as the original jazz number. This EP won’t likely see a lot of chart action here in the States, but her full-length album, Devotion, may just be a decent-sized breakout for her here in this new year. It’s just too bad that “Love” isn’t on that one. It’s the real treat on this short trip through Ware’s musical identity, a brilliant concoction of the avant-garde mixed with the soul of the quiet storm. (iTunes)
  • The late Queen of Ivory Soul, Teena Marie, gets a posthumous release in Beautiful, an album she had just completed at the time of her death in late 2010. Lead single “Luv Letter” is receiving minor airplay at Urban Adult Contemporary radio. (AmazonMP3)
  • Rapper A$AP Rocky delivers his first album, LONG.LIVE.A$AP. “… Problems” has been a big hit at Rhythm and Urban radio. This may be the highest debut on next week’s chart, though given the low sales climate in January, it’s unclear whether it will be #1 yet. (iTunes)
  • Are you a kid who wants to sing along to watered down lyrics of your favorite songs as performed by other children with stage moms who wants all the glitz and glamour themselves? Well, look no further than the 23rd (how the hell did they get to 23?) edition of Kidz Bop, featuring mediocre renditions of big hits like “We Are Never Ever Wearing Black Together”, “Locked Out Of Homeroom”, and “Fail Again”. You’re sure to be schooled by this one. (iTunes… unfortunately)
  • Alternative band Yo La Tengo releases their thirteenth studio album, Fade. It’s their first since 2009. (iTunes)
  • A former American Idol contestant takes on the world of Christian music, though it’s not his first foray into the genre. Jason Castro‘s Only A Mountain is in stores this week. (AmazonMP3)
  • Already a big seller at Amazon, The Tenors (formerly The Canadian Tenors) are back with Lead With Your Heart, produced by the world-renowned David Foster. Expect this one to be a big hit with the older demographic. (AmazonMP3)
  • The duo 2Cellos put out their appropriately titled second album, In2ition, featuring their take on popular songs by AC/DC, Elton John and Rihanna and more as only they could. (AmazonMP3)
  • Former Danity Kane member Dawn Richard puts out GoldenHeart, her solo debut. (AmazonMP3)

New digital-only singles that you can buy this week include:

  • “Suit & Tie”, the sexual and soulful new hit from Justin Timberlake, featuring Jay-Z. (iTunes)

Things begin to pick up a little bit more next Tuesday – we’ll see you then!

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SINGLE REVIEW: Justin Timberlake featuring Jay-Z – “Suit And Tie”

It suits him well.

It suits him well.

You may as well call this a zoot suit riot. It’s finally here, the new single from Justin Timberlake, “Suit And Tie”, featuring rapper Jay-Z.  Understandably, the traffic to Timberlake’s website is a little heavy at the moment, but we’ve got your hookup to the hotness that is, by far, the most anticipated track of 2013 thus far.

Before I start, kudos once again to the various members of Pulse Music Board who put the puzzle pieces together (Follow the madness here) and came up with the correct titles for both the single and album title names for Timberlake’s new releases. Special thanks to Kurt Trowbridge who put up an amazing post on his blog, which you can see by clicking on his name. Really neat stuff that proved to be entirely right in the end!

Timberlake has of course been a huge success on the national surveys ever since he started in the boy band *NSYNC; he had at least one top-40 hit per year from 1998-2010. In recent years, his presence on the charts has lessened considerably, mainly due in part to the singer’s focus on acting and developing some of his own acts on his label Tennman Records, including Esmée Denters and FreeSol. (None of them have been big successes to date in the States, though his collaboration with Matt Morris and Charlie Sexton, a version of “Hallelujah” performed at the Hope For Haiti Now telethon, became a digital hit.) His last significant radio single was a feature on Jamie Foxx‘s “Winner”, which peaked at #27 on CHR radio in May 2010. It also featured rapper T.I., but it’s long faded from the airwaves. Now, Timberlake is back in action with this first single from his forthcoming third solo album, The 20/20 Experience.

The song was written by Timberlake, Timbaland, Jay-Z, Jerome Harmon and James Flauntleroy. Harmon’s worked with a number of acts since 2007, from Ashlee Simpson to Chris Cornell. Fauntleroy was a co-writer behind “No Air” by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown, as well as one of the last hits Timberlake featured on, “Love, Sex, Magic” by Ciara.

“Suit” is very much an old-school record inspired by the early 70’s R&B sound, from the funky horn section to Timberlake’s sweet and tender vocals. It’s like a mixture of Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye vocally with the explicitness lyrically of a Barry White record. At a hefty 5:28, the version on iTunes will be used as the album version, while a radio edit will chop it down a bit. It starts off with a slow section combining Timberlake’s vocals and Timbaland’s production, stopping about forty seconds in with a clear break. Timbaland questions: “Wait a minute. Are you ready, JT?” That’s an affirmative. (This part is cut out on the radio edit, thank goodness. It’s like what Timbaland tried to do with “4 Minutes” by extending Madonna and Timberlake’s song to a length of 4:04 with a non-event intro and outro. Keep it short and simple, please.)

Timberlake is in the mood for some steady romancing crooning that he “can’t wait to get [her] on the floor”. She’s a fiesty one who burns him to the touch and “ain’t nothin’ but a little doozy when she does it,” but he proceeds with his lady because, as he states in the chorus, “love is swingin’ in the air tonight/Let me show you a few things”. She may be dangerous for the “innocent” character in Timberlake, but “she’s all mine.” Yet, this is no casual romance. Oh, no, no, not for Mr. Timberlake, who is “fixed up to the 9’s” and “all dressed up in black and white”, matching the perfectly picked-up out dress by his female cohort. How sizzling! All of this is against a really dreamy sounding arrangement which really goes a nice job of combining both the classic soul sound with some up-to-date techniques, like the steady drum machine line and the multi-layered instruments.

At 3:14, the bark of an order from JT: “Get out your seat, HOV!” Hey, look, it’s Jay-Z on this record! His flow is solid as usual, proclaiming, “This is trouble season/Time for tuxedos for no reason.” It’s another part of what makes this track so sensual, and even though it’s probably the most current thing about this dated-sounding record, it actually isn’t too bad. In fact, this is probably the most I’ve liked a song featuring the rapper in at least two or three years. Is it an essential part of the song? Perhaps not, but it for sure works. Timberlake’s vocals are done for the most part by the 4:48 mark, ending with a really pretty mixture of drums, keyboards, horns and a little bit of steel drum as if you’ve been whisked away into paradise for five-and-a-half minutes. This guy is good.

So, yes, I’m in love, for now at least. It’s a more mature sound for the former boy bander; the only potential problem I see is that a younger audience may not connect with it since it’s not particularly kid-friendly. The Urban audience may also write this off as a Robin Thicke reject, but who cares? Justin Timberlake is back, and praise the Lord that this isn’t an electro-pop dance song like the majority of the material on CHR radio today. It’s a game changer, just like “SexyBack” was in 2006. The song will easily debut high on the CHR chart on the weekend’s update, which is perfect timing given that it will also be the fifteenth anniversary of *NSYNC‘s debut single, “I Want You Back”, hitting the top 40 on the same chart. Will the song be able to score the biggest debut digital sales frame of all-time? We’ll have to see, but the buzz behind it is immense. Look out below!

For more singles reviews and music news, follow us here at POP! Goes The Charts and my personal Twitter handle: @AdamFSoybel.

Buy “SUIT & TIE” on iTunes. (Album version)

(If you’re interested in a solo radio version without Jay-Z, you can contact me on here or on Twitter.)

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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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