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A Flawed Vision

Sam Stryker | Friday, March 22, 2013



Senior Staff Writer

He’s back.

After a six-and-a-half year musical hiatus, Justin Timberlake – the real Justin, for all you Beliebers out there – has returned to the music scene with his third studio album, “The 20/20 Experience,” released Tuesday.

In the music scene, Timberlake’s absence felt like an eternity. During that time, new pop stars emerged – Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and the boys of One Direction. Rihanna released five – count ’em, five! – albums during that time period. It was only natural to expect great things from Timberlake in his return to music.

Perhaps because of my sky-high expectations I was a tad let down by “The 20/20 Experience” upon first listen. I was expecting JT to blow my pants off with his new music.  I was expecting “The 20/20 Experience” to provide the catchiest jams that I could look forward to hearing – and dancing to – multiple times every Wednesday at Finny’s. I wanted songs in the vein of “Rock Your Body” and “Sexyback.”

But that isn’t what Timberlake’s album does. Once you accept that, “The 20/20 Experience” becomes a much more enjoyable listen.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard the first single off the album, “Suit & Tie.” Released to much fanfare (and rightfully so) Timberlake performed the song at the Grammys, on “Saturday Night Live” and in – gasp! – Bud Light commercials. “Suit & Tie” is a fitting song for Timberlake, who was featured in Thursday’s Style section of The New York Times and regularly earns praise for his dapper style.

No longer featuring the frosted tips of his NSYNC days, Timberlake has ditched the all-denim outfit he once wore with then-girlfriend Britney Spears for Tom Ford suits. Timberlake now is a style icon in the vein of Cary Grant, the Times argues, and “Suit & Tie” sonically projects that sophistication. Featuring a throwaway cameo by Jay-Z, the track is breezy and fun in a way most of the other tracks on “The 20/20 Experience” are not.

Still, easily the best song off the album is “Mirrors,” which shows once again that Timberlake can slow things down and deliver a gut-wrenching track. He did it with “Cry Me a River” on his freshman effort, “Justified,” and once again on “FutureSex/LoveSounds” with “What Goes Around … Comes Around.” But while those songs dealt with themes of betrayal and loss – thank you, Miss Britney Spears – “Mirrors” is reflective (pardon the pun) of Timberlake’s relationship and recent marriage to Jessica Biel. It is soulful while also being upbeat, and with Timbaland’s production it sounds like a signature JT track.

Unfortunately, none of the other tracks on “The 20/20 Experience” really stand out. As a whole, the album is enjoyable and gets better with every subsequent listen. But aside from the previous two aforementioned tracks, none of the other songs pop out as “must-listens.” “Pusher Love Girl” gets the album off with a jump, and is a fun, flirty track perfect for warm summer nights. “Strawberry Bubblegum” is the requisite song relating a girl and romance to some type of food. “Let The Groove In” changes pace and is a funky jam and a breath of fresh air on the album. “Blue Ocean Floor” is staid and deliberate and is reminiscent of the sound on Frank Ocean’s recent release, “Channel Orange.”

By that token, Timberlake takes his time with most of the tracks – much as Ocean did on his first solo album. Eight of the 10 songs on “The 20/20 Experience” are six minutes or longer, which allows the slower pace of the album to really sink in.

Luckily for music fans, Timberlake has already announced he plans to release a follow-up effort to “The 20/20 Experience” sooner rather than later. JT has proven he can slow things down and hit home with his deliberate pace. Here’s to hoping he’ll rock our bodies the next time around.

Contact Sam Stryker at                                     sstryke1@nd.edu