The 20/20 Experience is ‘music you can see’ and—for the most part—I like the view

Pictured: the man I'm currently competing with for affection from my girlfriend.

Pictured: the man I’m currently competing with for affection from my girlfriend.

Last week my girlfriend handed me Justin Timberlake’s new CD, The 20/20 Experience, and over the past few days I’ve been giving it a listen. As I started to dissect the album I began to realize I had a lot of thoughts about it. So why not blog them?

Full disclosure, I’ve never listened to a Justin Timberlake album before. So my knowledge of his musical background comes from places like TRL and my fraternity serenades (we brought Sexy Back). In all seriousness, I have obviously heard a good number of his songs and knew that he was a gifted performer, but I’m not able to compare this body of work as a whole to any of his previous albums in their entirety.

Much of the buzz surrounding this album centered on the songs seven and eight minute run times. I actually don’t mind that at all, but I do believe that the producers deserve as much credit for it as JT. It feels like Timberland—with the help of Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon and Rob Knox—produced seven and eight minutes songs and Justin sang for four to five minutes of them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just thought I needed to make that clear. By all means, heap praise on the artist for this triumphant return after six and a half years off. JT put out a good album, no arguments to the contrary here. But please applaud his production team as well.

Pusher Love Girl

It seems this song was chosen to lead off because it perfectly sets the tone for the album. It also happens to be one of my favorite songs of the bunch. It’s basically a microcosm of the entire album. This is JT 3.0’s reintroduction, and in this first song he’s telling us, “Yes. There’s going to be a big band sound, but things will still be funky and futuristic. Don’t worry Timberland’s beats will still rule. Be warned, the songs might go on for 7 or 8 minutes. Oh, and ladies, lookout for all kinds of metaphors for love and the making of it” [Editor’s note: some better than others]. Comparing love to drugs is hardly original, but Justin is able to get creative with his imagery and his now iconic falsetto voice is so on point here that I’ll forgive lines like “I’m your number one theme, be my little pill and just creep into my blood stream.” At about the five minute mark Timberland takes over and JT is left to prattle on about various hardcore drugs for another two and a half minutes.

Suit & Tie

I was seriously underwhelmed after hearing this song for the first time. Not much has changed after repeated listening. I will say it works great on a Budlight Platinum commercial. The retro style and full band sound worked well as a single to show his new style, but it’s hardly my favorite track on the album. The main beat is good, but I don’t care for the repeated tempo/beat changes and wish they would’ve just stuck with one. I was even indifferent to Jay-Z’s verse and I’m a big fan of his. What is interesting is that I thoroughly enjoyed their performance on both the Grammy’s and SNL. That’s just because they’re both elite performers who know how to command a presence on stage. Unfortunately the album version doesn’t seem to hold as much life.

Don’t Hold the Wall

The production is the star on this track. The beat features tribal drums, rain sticks, a whole lot of bass, and did I hear some of those yelling goats? I don’t care. I like what I’m hearing. Timberland’s construction of the beat is what really stands out and the beat carries this song. Quite honestly, this feels like a Timberland tune that JT is featured on. The lyrics are nothing spectacular with themes of night spots, drinking and “love in this club” style romance “Closer to me, closer to me, sippin’ your drink and you’re getting closer to me, dance in the light, startin’ to see”. Certain to be a club hit, the song fulfills its purpose. That is to say, after listening I no longer want to hold the wall. I want to dance.

Strawberry Bubblegum

This poppy disco-esque diddy features beeps, chimes, guitar and even Timberland talking to us in his best Barry White impersonation, “Hey, pretty lady”. My initial thought was, “I could totally roller-skate to this” and I stand by that. The song is fun and I do like it, but that’s not to say I love it. My complaints with the song are twofold: first, the staccato falsetto is eerily reminiscent of JT’s BeeGee’s skit from SNL. If Suit & Tie is a tuxedo and bowtie this long is a leisure suit and gold chain. Second, the hook sounds like Navi from Ocarina of Time. “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” No, that’s not an exaggeration, that’s half the chorus. It features 18 (ONE EIGHT) “Hey”’s. Despite this the song is smooth and it flows well. Halfway through the song slides into ’70s bachelor pad mode and JT invites us to “come in, sit down”. That’s great and all, but then Justin gives us this line: “If you’ll be my strawberry bubblegum then I’ll be your blueberry lollipop” which has to be the stickiest metaphor for sex I’ve ever heard. Not even sure I want to delve into what exactly he’s describing.

Tunnel Vision

Best production on the album? Debatable. My favorite? No question. It’s basically gibberish and whistles layered over drums. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s essentially much how Timberland has made a name for himself. Give a second and third listen and you’ll pick out more and more layers and you’ll come to appreciate it even more (The strings! The synth! It’s fantastic!). JT is once again head-over-heels in love on this track. “A crowded room anywhere, a million people around, all I see is you there
Everything just disappears, disappears, disappears, disappears”.
The lyrics combine with the production to give the track a sense of urgency. It would seem important that he gets to this woman who has given him tunnel vision. I don’t seem to mind it’s nearly eight minute run time and somewhat repetitive chorus nearly as much because the production is simply that good. Well done!

Spaceship Coupe

Are you kidding me Justin? No, seriously…are you? Because when I first heard this song I thought it was another collaboration with The Lonely Island. This song is notable for featuring the most absolutely ridiculous lyrics on the album. JT succeeds as an artist and as an entertainer because he is always 100% committed to the bit (Look at his SNL appearances for examples), but the lyrics in this song are so cringe-worthy they will make you wish he would’ve released it as a joke. Lines such as, “I don’t want to be the one to alienate, yeah (alienate) You see, I’m trying to find an alien in you (you, you, if it’s cool, cool)” and “So drive me to your galaxy where I could play, yeah (that milky way)” are so off putting you’ll have trouble deciding whether you want to roll your eyes or blush. In addition to the terrible intergalactic sex metaphors—or perhaps because of them—the song doesn’t quite have the oomph that you’ve come to expect up to this point on the album.

That Girl

Oh so soulful. This, and not Spaceship Coupe, is where the album should’ve slowed. Slow and soulful lyrics on this track are accompanied by smooth R&B sounds courtesy of The Tennessee Kids. Over guitars, brass, and harmonizing vocals straight out of the ‘70s Justin croons what amounts to a giant slap in the face of every girl listening. Sorry ladies, he’s telling you all “I’m in love with that girl. So don’t be mad at me”. Sure he rhymes “Lady” with “Lady” and “Baby” with “Baby” a few too many times, but the song still shows clearly that JT thrives in front of The Tennessee Kids. I enjoyed it.

Let The Groove Get In

“Are you comfortable? Right there. Right there. Let the groove get in. There, there right there. Are you comfortable? Right there. Right there. Let the groove get in. There, there right there.” What? If JT can repeat that for 7 minutes and call it a song I can repeat it twice and call it a review. Pathetic excuse for a song. It doesn’t belong on the album. Sadly, if you do make it through about five and a half minutes of it I quite like the instrumentals.

Mirrors

This is a Great. F***ing. Song. That’s not to be confused with a great-f***ing-song. There are many of those peppered throughout the album. Though I have a feeling that if you sang it to a girl like JT does it would be both. HEYOOO!!!! In all seriousness, the song is a captivating pop ballad teaming with sentiment. Catchy and heartfelt lyrics layered over radio-friendly beats and triumphant synth make this a song I keep hitting repeat on. It is worth noting that the song clearly stands out on the album as a throwback to JT and Timberland’s earlier work, but how is that a bad thing really? I’m reminded of two of the best collaborations they’ve ever done: it’s like “My Love” and a happy version of “Cry Me a River” had a baby. Like many of the songs on the album the radio edit line is clearly marked with a transition to a new tempo and beat.

Blue Ocean Floor

With a beat that features a…what is that? Is that an iron lung? Or a decompression chamber clicking and hissing in the background? I’ll go with it. I think it might actually works. This is by far the most experimental track on the album and may require a second or third (…ok, fourth or fifth) listen to appreciate. This slow ballad is an escape from the rest of the albums neo-retro sing and swing style. I’m not certain what the repeated imagery of the sea floor is symbolizing. Lyrics such as, “If my red eyes don’t see you anymore, and I can’t hear you through the white noise, just send your heartbeat I’ll go to the blue ocean floor” conjure thoughts of isolation and seclusion, but despite its nearly complete lack of a beat and somewhat cold lyrics I like this song.

Dress On

“Let’s do this. Now.”-JT on this track. The first bonus track on the deluxe version of the album alternates between hard(ish) hitting verses and soulful refrain. The beat begins with some heavy breathing and features a ton of bass and hand claps. The lyrics follow a similar pattern to the beat. That is, they are direct and to the point on the verses “we can do it, while you still got your dress on”, and smooth and soulful on the hook “I can’t wait, cuz girl as soon as I look at your face, I see a world where our heart never breaks”. This Yin and Yang works extremely well on the track and somehow JT succeeds at telling a girl he’d like to do her with her dress on without being creepy. I dare you to try that.

Body Count

A song with one speed? On this CD that is a rarity. This song moves and grooves. With loads of brass and fast pacing the song seems almost Latin inspired. Think “Rock Your Body” at double speed with trumpets. It works as a bonus track, but isn’t complex enough to warrant inclusion on the regular album. The beat and lyrics make this a fun—though repetitive—song to listen to. How many times can you say “Make my body count”? He seems determined to find out. But I must admit, I genuinely enjoyed this fun song.

So there you have it. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

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