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Justin Timberlake’s ‘20/20 Experience’ lacks confidence, originality

Timberlake’s hiatus from music results in uninspired album

Published: Friday, March 29, 2013

Updated: Friday, March 29, 2013 00:03

After seven years of mediocre movies and assorted stints on Saturday Night Live, Justin Timberlake is finally back with a new album. “The 20/20 Experience” is one of the most highly anticipated albums of the decade, selling almost one million copies in the first week after its release. Unfortunately the new Timberlake record, his first since “FutureSex/LoveSounds” in 2006, does not deserve the hype.

It seems that after seven years of disuse, Timberlake’s once−prolific pop−production machine is missing a few cogs. “The 20/20 Experience,” is a clear attempt by Timberlake and his production team to recapture the flawless originality and magnetism of “FutureSex/LoveSounds.” What seems to be most lacking is restraint. Timberlake’s desire to prove his musical relevance overpowers any originality that the album could have had. With seven out of the 10 tracks on the album over seven minutes long, the listening experience quickly becomes tedious. It is clear that Timberlake is trying to dominate a music scene composed of different charts than the ones he topped in 2006 and consequently, his platinum dreams sound a little tinny.

Timberlake, who rose to stardom in the ’90s as a member of the multi−platinum boy−band *NSYNC, has shared his musical evolution with rapt audiences. After breaking out on his own in 2002 after the death of *NSYNC, he worked hard to rid himself of the boy−band image that was so quickly ascribed to him. His first solo studio album, “Justified” (2002), marked a clear shift in his tone and image. This album began Timberlake’s foray into R&B and was marked by amazing singles like “Rock Your Body” and “Cry Me a River.” After a brief hiatus after his first solo venture, Timberlake released “FutureSex/LoveSounds” in 2006, his unequivocal masterpiece. “FutureSex/LoveSounds” not only showcased a more dynamic and musically inquisitive Timberlake, it also changed the atmosphere and face of pop music forever. Timberlake’s melodies, as well as his incorporation of electronic and Motown influences were unprecedented.

What Timberlake achieved on “FutureSex/LoveSounds” is exactly what artists like Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars are continually attempting to imitate, to no avail. Timberlake did everything right on that album by collaborating with unique producers and artists, remaining meticulous about the sounds he was making and, most importantly, moving forward with a new sound confidently and fearlessly. This confidence and self−assurance is exactly what “The 20/20 Experience” lacks.

Instead of making something new and exciting, Timberlake is merely jumping on the pop bandwagon. The album is marked by electro−pop loops, strong rhythm and blues beats and falsetto singing — these being the most belabored characteristics of pop music today. Worst of all, “The 20/20 Experience” lacks a sense of self−awareness that all of Timberlake’s other projects had, making the album completely self−indulgent. Without any sense of humor or restriction, Timberlake drags listeners through tireless eight−minute−long tracks about his marriage to Jessica Biel and making love on the moon. “Spaceship Coupe,” the sixth track on the album, would be much more fitting as one of his collaborations with Andy Samberg.

What Timberlake desperately needs is an orientation to the current music scene — and perhaps some clues from Beyoncé. Beyoncé, also a former member of a ’90s pop group, is doing exactly what Justin Timberlake wishes he could do. She has managed to combine R&B and Motown influences effortlessly, along with unique synth and stunning pop vocals and lyrics. Timberlake’s single “Suit & Tie” — a collaboration with Jay−Z — is a halting and awkward attempt at creating relevant sounds. Timberlake is trying to prove that he’s cool again, but somewhere along the way, he forgot the golden rule of pop stardom: the music has to be good.

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