‘The 20/20 Experience’ an eye-opening comeback for Timberlake

Photo via Pitchfork.com
Photo via Pitchfork.com

Justin Timberlake  hasn’t exactly disappeared, but it’s been a while since we’ve heard anything new from him. Seven years, to be exact.

While the singer-turned-actor has kept busy with multiple “Saturday Night Live” hosting gigs and movie roles, the world has awaited a follow-up to 2006’s Grammy-nominated “FutureSex/LoveSounds.”

Timberlake’s third solo album, “The 20/20 Experience,” released Tuesday, marks an end to the long hiatus, and it appears Timberlake has made good use of the time.

On “20/20,” Timberlake pairs up with producer Timbaland, who also worked on “FutureSex/LoveSounds” and again makes several guest appearances. This is fitting with the trend in today’s pop music that litters tracks with guest appearances and collaborations, but Timberlake keeps it subtle by including Timbaland only in the background vocals and adding just a few Jay-Z verses in “Suit & Tie.” Timberlake keeps the main focus on his own voice and vocals, as it should be.

The ten grandiose, soul-influenced songs on the new album clock in at a lengthy 70 minutes, and for those who can’t do math (yours truly), that’s an average song time of seven minutes, with only one song clocking in at less than five minutes.

“Pusher Love Girl” opens the album in grand style, with a string section that alludes to old school sound from the big band era. The opening notes feel like they belong in a classic black-and-white Hollywood film with all the elegance and class of the time.

Timberlake’s voice is seductive in the first of a series of love songs. Among many drug references (“You’re my MDMA/You’re my cocaine”) he admits that underneath it all, he’s just a “junkie for your love.” In “Strawberry Bubblegum,” he switches from tougher vices to sugar and candy with lines like “if you’d be strawberry bubblegum/then I’d be blueberry lollipop.” In print these lines may seem ridiculous, but coated with Timberlake’s smooth voice and melodies, they manage to sound incredibly romantic.

“Suit & Tie,” the album’s first single, encapsulates the album’s overall theme of elegance (“all pressed up in black and white/and you’re dressed up in that dress I like”) and, of course, sex. “Blue Ocean Floor” is the perfect album closer, ending on a note of violins and synths that brings together the tone of the entire album in eight minutes. The songs may be lengthy for many pop listeners, but they flow and connect to make “20/20” a great listening experience.

The one thing that may also work against the album’s succes is that on first listen, many of the tracks sound similar, and the album may come off a little boring. But after a couple of replays, every song differentiates itself and makes for a much more enjoyable experience.

Justin Timberlake may have started out with pop, but this album moves him even closer to his soul influences. He’s nearing leaving behind his souful pop to make poppy soul music. This shift makes his latest effort Timberlake’s most grown up and elegant. He is showing his maturity, which makes sense considering he’s 32 years old and no longer an N’SYNC boy-band member.

According to Billboard magazine, Timberlake confirmed at the album’s release party that “20/20” would be getting a second half with ten more songs to finalize the work. With Timberlake’s vision, fans will be glad we won’t have to wait seven more years for a new collection of songs.

“20/20” perfectly reflects Timberlake’s personality. It’s elegant, classy, sexy and smooth, and that’s what sets him apart from many other pop singers right now. He brought sexy back before, and his quest this time seems to be bringing back the romance and seduction, as well.

After all of the weeks of “Thrift Shop,” maybe getting dolled up in a “Suit & Tie” is just what the Top 40 needs.