50/50 on 20/20 :: Thoughts on Justin Timberlake’s return to pop music

Photo Credit: Billboard.com

Photo Credit: Billboard.com

If your social sphere resembles mine, then all of your facebook, twitter, instagram, foursquare (who uses foursquare?) accounts were abuzz yesterday with the release of the curliest-haired N’syncer’s latest foray into music. Justin Timberlake released his third solo album The 20/20 Experience, marking his first contribution to the world of popular music since 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds.

After listening to the whole album and even purchasing a few songs to mull over on my commute this morning, here is my evaluation of why you should, or should not, give two shits about JT’s “vision.”

THE GOOD

1. If nothing else, Justin is a master at the art of reinventing himself.

If there is one thing that is undeniably admirable about JT, it is his ability to stick around. This guy was on the Mickey Mouse Club back before half his fans were even born, and not only is he still here, but he’s still making relevant music. Even if it’s not your thang, he’s still keeping people interested. There’s something real to be said about that.

2. It’s original, and he’s using his fame to broaden the general public’s idea of popular music.

At times 20/20 sounds like Babyface mixed with a little MJ. But I was surprised that it wasn’t in a pop-music kind of way – it was in a straight R&B kind of way. He throws in all kinds of snippets from other genres, including some latin elements. Maybe if Justin Timberlake throws these sounds into his music, the general public will be trained to appreciate them? It’s a shoddy theory, but one can only hope.

3. Every once in a while, there’s still that boy-band worthy hook.

Suit & Tie made me roll my eyes at first, but that number will sneak it’s way into your brain like a 12 year old into an R rated movie. Mirrors is no different, even if I have my gripes with it for other reasons (see below). Even with the inclusion of all these other genre influences, I was happy to see he’s still got his dirty-pop roots – after all, that’s why we’re listening.

THE BAD

1. It is alarmingly and unabashedly self-indulgent.

I get it, JT. You’ve been around forever. You’re a bajillionaire. You’re married to Jessica Biel. To a certain extent I suppose you’ve earned the right to do whatever the hell you want, and people will still adore you. But the tracks on this album have an average length of 7 minutes. 7 MINUTES. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Especially when most of it is vamping and going off on weird tangents. Maybe some of it is brilliant and interesting, but some of it is just pure self-indulgence. NEXT.

2. Amidst the originality, there are some parts that sound all-too-familiar.

As I’m listening to Mirrors, I suddenly realize…haven’t I heard this beat before? Oh right, it was in JT’s first album Justified, over a little ditty called Cry Me A River. But instead of recognizing the parallel and finding a fresh new spin on it, I just ended up craving the original. Come on Timbaland, you can do better than that.

3. He sacrificed quality for quantity in the strangest way possible.

On the one hand, the album only has ten songs. On the other, they are all at least 2-3 minutes too long. Why not take some of those ramblings and chop them off, then develop them into their own song? He would have ended with a beefier album that felt more like a pop-punch to the solarplexes and less like a meandering, vampy jam session.

As with any album, 20/20 needs a little more time to settle into my music catalogue and find its place. But as far as first impressions go, it’s a long drawn out passion project by a true star with real talent. If that isn’t a 50/50 conclusion, I don’t know what is.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on Justin’s new album. Am I not giving it enough of a chance?

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Categories: Album Review, Pop

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