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March 18, 2013 | by  | in Arts Music | [ssba]

The 20/20 Experience, Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake’s (or, as I affectionately refer to him: JT <3) new album, The 20/20 Experience dropped last week. The furore has been positively gargantuan. Already, internet boards are awash with comparisons to last year’s Channel Orange, or even House of Balloons. But if I had to pick an album as a reference point, I’d go with Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF) in the sense that both are ALBUMS’ albums. Both sound like their artist’s creative zenith. Both are immaculately polished and probably their greatest achievements to date. And both lose an ineffable something in the process; in the same way that nothing on MBDTF moved me as much as ‘Heard ‘em Say’, or ‘Gone’; nothing on The 20/20 Experience quite captures the effervescent synth pads that begin ‘My Love’, or the drunken familiarity of ‘Senorita’ or ‘Rock Your Body’.

There’s scepticism in some circles. This album seeps with ambition, and the song-lengths reflect that—there’s not a single track on here that has a duration of less than five minutes, with most treading the seven-minute line. As such, there’s an influx of commentary—dominated by Nirvana- T-shirt-wearing, Led-Zep-listening, ‘I-was-born-in-the-wrong-generation’ Redditors—that gleefully points out the palpable irony in a former member of N*Sync saying “If Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin can do ten-minute songs and Queen can do ten-minute songs, then why can’t we?”. The uproar here seems to be that a mere pop star has the gall— nay, the temerity!—to attempt to pen intricate, long songs, free of bloating.

And hey—remember earlier when I called The 20/20 Experience an album’s album? The longer songs are part and parcel of that. What are pop songs for if not to repeat, again and again? How often have you heard the end of a pop song and said “I wish this song didn’t have to end”? On the The 20/20 Experience, the songs don’t end; or at least, they go on for long enough to satiate the listener without boring them. Paradoxically, then, the longer, fleshed-out songs make sure the listener’s attention is devoted to the album, not to specific songs.

And what songs they are. Though I go through lapsed periods when it comes to Timbaland, my faith has been restored. The production is absolutely pristine, combining Timbaland’s pop nous with intricate details (example: how fucking good is that typewriter effect on ‘Blue Ocean Floor’?. Honestly.) and textures that demand a headphone listen. The stellar ‘Don’t Hold The Wall’ along with ‘Tunnel Vision’ and ‘Let the Groove In’ are straight-up bangaz twisted and mutated into something sophisticated that you’ll wanna dance to (even you, honky). ‘Blue Ocean Floor’ is a damn-near perfect album closer, simultaneously serene and unsettling. The song carries such a tightly-coiled energy in the haphazard drums and reverb-heavy samples that you expect chaos to unleash any second, à la Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’. That it doesn’t is a testament to the album’s maturity and subtlety. Even Jay-Z’s piss-poor verse doesn’t entirely ruin ‘Suit and Tie’; that it’s the least-accomplished song on the album should give you an indication of the album’s quality. Haters be damned; I’m boarding the hype train. Next stop: 9.8 from Pitchfork (called it?).



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