“I feel like you’ve just overpromised, I was going to come in and say it was a mediocre record,” joked Justin Timberlake as he stepped into a restaurant full of music journalists eager to hear his first new album in six years.
Timberlake had made a surprise appearance at the preview playback of his new record ‘The 20/20 Experience’ and brought his playful personality along with him.
Wrapped up in a dark coat and black beanie hat, the six time Grammy Award-winner revealed: “I always feel weird introducing my own music, so I’ll just shut the f*ck up.”
As he disappeared from the room as quickly as he'd appeared, the sound of JT’s first head-bopping track on the album filled the room...
Timberlake previously debuted ‘Pusher Love Girl’ at his New Orleans comeback gig and at the Grammys in February. The track, complete with his as-good-as-ever-sounding trademark falsetto, sees the former 'N Sync star sing: “I’m a junkie for your love” as he channels his inner mid-’80s Prince.
It’s nothing like anything that's been on the radio in a long, long time and you’re instantly transported back to the heady days of when Timberlake dominated the charts. Have there really been six years in between? I’m also reminded of the stepping songs from R. Kelly's fifth album ‘Chocolate Factory’, which you can’t help but move to.
Switching from orchestral to heavily-produced and back again, the song seamlessly moves into UK number three comeback single ‘Suit & Tie’ featuring Jay-Z.
Co-produced by Timberlake's longtime maestro Timbaland, it’s as expertly tailored as its title suggests. The suave track begins with down-tempo synths, before segueing into a swinging groove.
After listening to the whole album, it becomes clear why JT chose to release this song first - it’s the most unique track on the record, even if it is hard to distinguish whether you like it at first.
With no pause, the record moves onto another track helped by Timbaland, ‘Don’t Hold The Wall’ - a dance motivator. It's one of the strongest songs on the album and sees Timberlake pursue a girl in a club, something he’s undoubtedly had little trouble doing over the years. It’s ‘The Chop Me Up’ of ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ and the ‘Rock Your Body’ of ‘Justified’ funked up for ‘The 20/20 Experience’.
The Hollywood star drops his seductive whispering into the mix on this one and, by the end, the song has somewhat changed shape.
The techno sound JT sampled in ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ has gone but he’s still into his reprises and interludes that leave you wondering where one song ends and another one begins.
Next up is ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’, a song as seductive as its title, although I fear if you had too much of it you might end up feeling a little sick. Timberlake claims he has the “recipe for a good time” and for this one its best to just relax and let him woo you with lines like “little girl I want you to be my strawberry bubblegum”.
Another of my favourites from the record is ‘Tunnel Vision’. Its beat resembles 50 Cent's Grammy-nominated ‘Ayo Technology’ on which Timberlake joined in. This is JT in love, and on the infectious track he croons “I look around and everything I see is beautiful, because all I see is you.”
Here we have Timberlake in a much happier place than ‘Cry Me A River’ and ‘What Goes Around... /... Comes Around’.
The dubiously titled, metaphor-laden ‘Spaceship Coupe’ is the sixth track. The soaring number depicts JT’s fantasy of flying away to “make love on the moon” but isn’t particularly interesting.
Next, ‘That Girl’ opens with the line “all the way from Memphis Tennessee” and my ears instantly prick up as I hope it’s the new ‘Senorita’.
Unfortunately it lacks the pizzazz of the Spanish jazz number produced by the Neptunes that is still played in bars today.
A Samba beat was used for ‘Let The Groove Get In’, perhaps ‘The 20/20 Experience’ answer to the funky ‘Like I Love You’. It’s one of the songs on the album that most clearly transports you back to the feel good R&B JT was famed for and is a clear contrast to the melancholy songs coming out of the genre’s cool new top boys like Frank Ocean and The Weekend.
Then it’s on to the self-reflective ‘Mirrors’, Timberlake’s second single from the album and my personal favourite (which might just be because it has the crunch beats and heavy-build up reminiscent of ‘Cry Me A River’). It's a typical Timbaland production but also the deepest song on the album and the only one where you really want to listen to the lyrics.
The final song on JT’s third studio album, ‘Blue Ocean Floor’, shows off his vocals with a forlorn melody but hardly sees the record go out with a bang.
Overall, ‘The 20/20 Experience’ felt like a nice warm hug from a much-missed friend. Justin is back and like nobody else around. He’s picked up where he left off, and his years away haven’t seen a huge departure from the nineties feel- good R&B he was first recognised for.
However, the album that we all wanted can’t be hailed as groundbreaking like his last, ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’.
What becomes clear is that just like that friend you haven’t heard from for a long time, it might just take a few listens before you adjust to having them back in your life.