It’s all about the sonic experience on Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience.”
Rabid fans of the pop-soul man won’t be surprised by much of the album considering how avidly he’s been promoting it, but there is a difference hearing these meticulously crafted songs in their native environment compared to Jimmy Fallon’s soundstage.
This is only Timberlake’s third studio solo album in more than a decade – which proves that the now-32-year-old isn’t interested in being rushed. He’s also apparently recorded so many songs that the second part (the other “20”) is expected to be released later this year.
But this one -- from the opening “Pusher Love Girl,” which illustrates how much Timberlake wants to inject his influences into his music with his use of harmony and his falsetto, to the hazy, layered closer, “Blue Ocean Floor" -- screams indulgence.
And why not? Even though he’s still young, Timberlake never needs to work again. Besides, it’s refreshing to hear someone of Timberlake’s relative youth dedicate himself to sprucing up old school soul rather than going for an instant gratification radio hit, as most of his peers would do.
Most of the tracks on the album span seven or eight minutes, and they’re usually worth it. Even the smooth groove of “Suit & Tie” worms into your brain once you bypass its sluggish intro.
Timberlake and his production team of Timbaland and Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon zig-zag from the blipping electronic sounds of “Don’t Hold the Wall” to the mellow sex jam, “Strawberry Bubblegum,” which, at times, sounds like one of those fake songs Timberlake and Andy Samberg would croon in an “SNL” digital short.
In fact, when the modern sounds of “Tunnel Vision” arrive, it’s almost a jarring disappointment that we’ve been yanked out of the cave where soulful throwbacks live and returned to the blandscape of contemporary R&B pop.
But Timberlake is a clever enough guy – even turning “Mirrors,” the closest thing here to a structured pop song, into a gliding slice of sophistication – to keep the aural surprises popping.
The best is “Let the Groove Get In,” a song that is little more than a chorus and rhythm – and one that pays more than a few bars of homage to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” – yet is also a burst of adrenaline couched in Latin percussion.
Sometimes music stars take years between projects and ultimately release forgettable pap. Kudos to Timberlake for taking his time – and for taking the musical high road.