After a hiatus to do his Hollywood thing – say what you will, but hey, In Time wasn’t a bad flick – Justin Timberlake has decided to get back to his roots and put out an album. Just before The 20/20 Experience was released, the news hit that a 10-track sequel, The 20/20 Experience Vol. 2, would be released later this year (and explains the title concept).
Oh, that clever Justin. It’s been awhile since he’s released an album – seven years to be exact since Future Sex/Love Sounds – and in that space, Miguel has pretty much supplanted JT in making the retro-future-R&B, with Frank Ocean also emerging recently to make his mark in the genre. It’s a crowded field of R&B singers, for sure. That said, does Justin deliver with 20/20? Judging from the up-tempo “Suit & Tie”, it seemed he would. Expectations went through the roof. The Timbaland-made delivered party jam grooves like Justin’s old hits (“Senorita”) and it definitely appeased JT fans everywhere. The Jay-Z verse didn’t hurt, either, although it would have done just fine without it.
While The 20/20 Experience is a good album, the problem is that it’s not very sonically diverse, something that was a trademark of JT’s first LP, Justified. The idea of Timbaland producing all 10 tracks sounds good on paper, but in reality, the tracks tend to blur together. For “Strawberry Bubblegum,” an 8-minute gem, there’s “Pusher Lover Girl,” the intro to the album, which channels Miguel more than it should. Meanwhile, the album closer, “Blue Ocean Floor” sounds like it was written for Frank Ocean. Chalk it up to bad sequencing, perhaps, since JT is definitely in his form with “Suit & Tie” and “Don’t Hold the Wall,” the latter sounding like what a new MJ recording would sound like in 2013. The blues-infused, mid-tempo “That Girl” is also one of the album’s better cuts.
To say The 20/20 Experience is a disappointment wouldn’t quite be fair. “Suit & Tie” is certainly a hit for the dance floor and headphones. But for an artist as unique as Justin Timberlake, this sounds too much like artists who have emerged after him, making the album sound more incomplete than disappointing. Perhaps Vol. 2 will deliver more oomph, but Vol. 1 on its own is a lackluster effort.