I’ve decided to write this blog entry live as I listen to The 20/20 Experience and move through track by track. It’s unedited, stream of consciousness as we go…
First track: “Pusher Love Girl”. The album starts off strong with a fantastic clarity to the tracks with a well-produced, well-balanced sound that is warm and precise. Immediately this track starts with a nice groove that has an urban and soulful beat, and distinguishes The 20/20 Experience as a new sound for JT. Very cool. Although admittedly, by the seven-minute marker of the first track, I’m ready for it to be finished.
“Suit and Tie” is bang on. This track, when it was released, came out of nowhere with some serious momentum behind it. To me, this is the kind of track that advances music to a new sound and sets a new standard for quality of production. It’s distinct, it’s unique, and it has bold style that only Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z could pull of with this kind of success. Its got a creamy smooth sound that oozes out of your speakers with a masterful warmth that makes you want to turn down the lights, grab a drink, and just groove.
As the energy of “Suit and Tie” fades to an abrupt end, I feel like the old-school days of boy band crooning jumps in for a few seconds. But it fooled me. Waiting a little longer reveals a characteristically Timbaland drum track on “Don’t Hold The Wall” that is reminiscent of the track he produced for Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3, “Off That”. This has a different intensity than any of the tracks so far and has a tribal sound – picture an tiger in the jungle, on the prowl. And to add to the diversity of sound, I recognize a sample from “Steel Drum”, on Cirque du Soleil’s soundtrack recording of Quidam. But here’s what I’m noticing so far…all of the tracks on this album are longer than expected. I’m coming up to seven minutes with “Don’t Hold The Wall”. Somehow this track didn’t feel that long, but we’ll see how the rest shape up.
“Strawberry Bubblegum” has an updated sense of nostalgia in the name and the sound, with the warm crackle of an LP overlayed with what turns out to be another very warm track with atmospheric sounds that are grounded with a clean drum beat. For a happy medium, the track is filled out with a soft string riff. I like that sound of this track, and it actually reminds me of some of Michael Jackson’s ballads although I can’t quite place which tracks. That’s just what popped into my head.
I’m not hearing immediate hits right now, aside from “Suit and Tie”, which is interesting. But I don’t think this album needs to make hits. The talent of Justin Timberlake comes across beautifully on this totally unique album. The sounds are unlike I’m hearing on any records in the mainstream right now. Its perfectly produced and seems to keep unveiling layer upon layer as the tracks progress. “Strawberry Bubblegum” has just made a transition into something a little more subdued with more rhythmic vocals that move the track forward instead of relying on the oh-so-prominent drum track earlier in the song. This is smooth…and I don’t want to keep saying that, but honestly, right now, that’s what I’m thinking! (And also, that was an eight minute track.)
So from “Strawberry Bubblegum” we move into “Tunnel Vision” which evokes an image of a party in slow-motion, with a crowd of people and one person walking through the room making his way between conversations in a tuxedo, and making eye contact with an elegantly dressed woman across the room. That’s the kind of tunnel vision I hear in this song, so if you ask me, this track perfectly matches the lyrics and the orchestration into one harmonious and clear story-telling.
And then the album slows down into “Spaceship Coupe” which is the strangest track so far, if you take it literally, as JT describes the “backseat view” from his spaceship coupe and his “space lover cocoon”. Okay. Sure. This track doesn’t sit as well with me. But that’s okay. One out of the lot so far isn’t that bad, right?
From space, we move to Tennessee and a staged live-venue intro to JT, which leads into a super-sexy guitar riff and playful horn line. Awesome. “That Girl” is a great example of the kind of music that only JT can pull off with the confident sound that he does. But can you believe it? This track is only 5 minutes long!
Now, on “Let the Groove Get In”, there is a new feeling fueled by a djembe in the drum line, and more of a latin-influenced sound. Actually the vocals on this track remind me a little bit of “Senorita”, from JT’s first studio album, Justified. But “Let the Groove Get In” definitely inspires a little movement in your hips and makes you want to get on your feet. And around the four minute mark in the song, the vocals drop out in what seems like its shaping up to be a dance break. But as the vocals begin to add back in the track reinvents itself into a new sound with influences of its original self.
Uh oh. “Mirrors” starts with a cheesy movie-moment kind of sound, but luckily it transforms back into the usual JT sound, in fact, it sounds incredibly similar to “Cry Me A River” until the chorus, which (by the way) unfortunately isn’t that great. Honestly, this track I skipped to the end of so that I could move on and experience “Blue Ocean Floor”.
The final track on this album starts with what sounds like a scuba-diving regulator underwater and adds a conclusive feeling to the album, dropping the energy to something more subdued. But it almost leaves this hanging feeling, similar to the feeling of scuba diving and floating through the water. There’s a calmness, and stillness to the end of the album that contrasts the rest of the tracks.
The 20/20 Experience is an aural adventure through new sounds that are absolutely iconic in the current music scene. Although I don’t think many of them will make it to the radio, the album lives up to its name – it is an experience that is unlike any other album out there right now, and I think its well-worth the listen. I’m interested to find out what you think…