Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience – The STiXXclusive Review

September 12, 2006 was the last time that the world was given a Justin Timberlake album. I was 17 years old, beginning grade 12, and oddly enough, I had done my last school talent school performance to ‘My Love’. It was really the last R&B album that I really cared for until recent years, but at the same time, no one has made an R&B album of that stature since then. 6 years and 6 months have gone by, and Justin Timberlake has had a change in lifestyle. We all know what happened; he discovered acting, one bad movie after the other (okay, excluding ‘Friends With Benefits’, ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Alpha Dog’), but something major happened in his life – he got married. It hasn’t even been a year since his marriage to actress Jessica Biel, but Justin is one who has been in relationships for the long haul: Britney – 3 years, Cameron Diaz – 3 years, and now his current-relationship-turned-marriage that’s been going on since 2007. Justin is clearly a lover, and that has been evident in every piece of work that he’s been involved with since his days with *NSYNC (Bye, Bye, Bye & Gone to name examples off the top of my head). So how would the emotional, yet multi-talented Timberlake be able to come back from a more-than-half-decade hiatus from music? And given the fact that the likes of Robin Thicke & Justin Bieber (Ok, we’ll throw in Adam Levine) were emerging as his successors, did he have what it really took to get back in it? That was the main question on everyone’s mind. Justin said (in an interview with Ryan Seacrest) that his best friend had given him the inspiration behind the title of the album by saying ‘this is music that you can see’, and thus here we are with the title of this album. He definitely wasn’t lying, but I’ve also come up with my own interpretation of not only the title of the album, but the album as a whole. The album definitely is an experience that Justin took a lot of time of preparing for not only himself, but for his fans that have been patiently waiting for the return of the real Justin.

Let’s begin

            Pusher Lover Girl started off the mood with no hesitation to get you seated comfortably; it didn’t ease you right in, but instead it jolted you like when a roller coaster starts for its climb to the peak before it starts to roll down and rush the adrenaline. The underlying tone of this song happens to be about drugs, but a ‘pusher’ is someone who supplies the drugs. Now, obviously we’re not going to be that naïve and actually think that Justin is actually taking real drugs. The term goes back into the days of Curtis Mayfield, when he made famous the term ‘Pusherman’

I’m your mama, I’m your daddy,
I’m that nigga in the alley.
I’m your doctor when in need.
Want some coke? Have some weed.
You know me, I’m your friend,
Your main boy, thick and thin.
I’m your pusherman.

Replace ‘coke’ and ‘weed’ with Love, and you have yourself the supplier of this drug. He’s a married man, and obviously the woman whom he loves is the source of his addiction. It’s clear cut and straight to the point. When you’re in love, it could feel so good, even when it’s going bad. Lauryn Hill said “Loving you is such a battle, and we both end up with scars” for a reason, because it’s not easy. Being addicted to drugs is bad, but it makes people feel good. The fact that Justin is professing that he literally can’t live without the love of his woman is deep enough to make you want to go out and say that to your woman if you haven’t already. He’s a junkie in dire need of that ‘good stuff’ to keep him going, and the 8-minute lead song was the necessary ‘fix’ for music junkies everywhere to reinstate that love is just another subject that can be expressed while not appearing to be all soft and mushy. The beauty of how this album starts off is that you only hope for what else Timberlake & Timbaland were able to come up with.
The song that started off the whole journey for the comeback trail of Justin Timberlake was Suit & Tie. When it came out, everyone was buzzing: Black, White, Asian, Brown, you name it. The beat was bouncy (sort of Neptune-ish), and it definitely established a more ‘grown up’ version of Justin Timberlake that had vaulted him from the likes of young adult into a grown man. ‘Grown & Sexy’ is a term that is used by people from before my time and is like one of your aunts or uncles telling you ‘you don’t know nothing ‘bout this here. This is grown folk’s music.’ In a nutshell, the sensuality & higher maturity isn’t something that the young kids can relate to, because it’s more on the adulterous side. I’m 23, not 13 – but listening to this, you do get the impression that it’s a more suave & luxurious song that a lot of people wouldn’t naturally expect Justin to do. Also, at the beginning and the middle of the song when the beat is like ‘chopped and screwed’, I thought that was definitely an element that would appeal to the young kids today, given the whole ‘Turn Up’ phase that has swept Hip Hop all over (thank you Atlanta). That too also caught people off guard, but that wasn’t the part of the song that most people didn’t like. The thing that threw off the vibe of the song (initially for me, but later grew onto) was Jay-Z’s verse. Now, I understand that Hov is the God MC (I’m not here to debate who’s the best, so spare your fingers from mashing that keyboard), but his verse was like an extension from his Watch The Throne verses, and of course he, of all people, can exemplify richness in 16 bars, but I felt that it wasn’t needed on the track (you could say I was in Kanye’s corner for a good time when the song came out). After listening to it over and over, and combining the elements all drawn together with the song overall, it worked, and I came to the conclusion that, even though Hov’s verse wasn’t all that, he still made it work in a way. Unlike FutureSex/LoveSounds, this song produced the only rap feature, so I’m sure people were happy about that. I don’t even care. The controversy with JT switching up the lyrics to get back at Kanye was pretty genius, and I didn’t even notice it when I watched it with my mom. Poking fun at Kanye (someone has to) was all fun in games, and people really made a big huff out of it, but it’ll definitely help propel his sales. Many people look at this track as the worst song, but for an album as good as this, there really wasn’t a ‘worst’ song – I’d just say ‘10th best.
You know when you go to the club, and you want to get down with every girl that you see on sight, but all she does is stand with her friends in one corner or against the wall to look cute? Those women aren’t appreciated – we like the women who are on the dance floor and aren’t scared to take a 1-2 step throughout the night. Don’t Hold the Wall started off on the slower, smoother, and sexier side (I call it Lap Dance Music), but then as we go through another beat change up, it sped up and finished off on the Pop side. It’s funny, because most of the lyrics (especially in the hook in the beginning) can be looked at in a sexual way, so it’s like ‘sex on the dance floor’. The changing up of the beat would be a common element throughout the album, much like how FutureSex/LoveSounds featured songs that had the beat change midway as completely different songs, or interludes prior to a song – either way, they’re smooth and well executed up to this point, and hopefully this song will finally ended the ‘stushness factor’ of women at the club being all nonchalant standing with their friends. DANCE, WOMAN!

Strawberry Bubblegum is a cute little story about a boy meeting a girl, and the comparisons of candy make it a sweet love. In the first half of this song, if you switched out this beat for Miguel’s ‘Adorn’, I swear to you, it would have worked well, because it reminded me of it, but just a little sped up. Continuing the theme of song ballads to his wife (he really loves his wife), the song does have a bit of a sexual influence behind it: Bubblegum (chew it and make it pop – eat it until she orgasms) & Lollipops (I don’t think I need to explain that). It’s still more so about the connection that the item first make, and how it goes on from there. It’s one of the smoother songs on the album. It goes from urban contemporary R&B (whatever the hell that means) to a Jazzy type of feel – much to the style of Robin Thicke that was evident for this album (I’ll get to that later).

Tunnel Vision is one of my favourite songs on this album (hard to pick just one favourite song) and the reason being is not only because of the beat, but because of the imagery and wordplay that’s used throughout the song: Cameras & Eyesight being the focal points. The expression ‘having tunnel vision’ is one that’s used when one is focused on a particular point and nothing around them exists. It’s essentially being in a dark tunnel with nothing but the light at the end to focus on. JT only has his eyes on the prize, and he’s definitely making it evident. The song also ties into personal tales because everything around him like distractions and other issues don’t matter if he has his eyes set on that one particular focus. That’s how it should be. You’re with someone; your focus should be YOU and THEM. People preferably don’t want to focus on other issues, but it’s human nature. As long as two people are locked in on each other and pulled into focus, it only makes the image clearer and more concise. Another thing that I’ve noticed with the songs is that half of the song is filled with the context, and the rest is filled with the instrumental composition by Timbaland – it’s definitely a collaborative effort thus far on this album.

Without much warning, the mood goes from 100 kilometres per hour right down to about 40. It’s slowed down and gets back into the sultry and sexy side of where the album picked up. Spaceship Coupe can also be argued as being the best song on the album because of the continuous metaphorical lyricism that goes on. Simple imagery is something that can be looked at as corny, but it’s also poetic, because really, in R&B these days, you just hear about singers’ problems or it’s all sex all the time. No one’s making happy R&B, and this is indeed a happy R&B album. I think this song serves as the ‘side effects’ for being on the love drug that was consumed in ‘Pusher Love Girl.’ He’s higher above the clouds – shooting for the moon & stars in a spaceship. He must be on some good love, because not many people have their love as high as the top of a house, never mind being over the moon. He claims that this woman is from Outer Space – an alien, unknown to his kind and also one of a kind, but as long as it’s him that stays with him, what else is there stopping them? The electric guitar solo reminded me when Kanye used one for the ‘Devil in a New Dress’ before Rick Ross’ verse. When used effectively, electric guitars are Heaven sent. The rest of the song allows you to zone out as JT serenades in a very Motown inspired way.

Speaking of Motown, Justin Timberlake is from Tennessee, and although it’s not like Detroit, they too had their cultural impact in America when it came to original Rhythm & Blues. That was evident on That Girl, when it started off with Timbaland introducing ‘JT & The Tennessee Kids’ at what sounded like a local pub or bar. The visual perspective you can paint takes me to the ‘What Goes Around/Comes Around’ video when JT was on the stage singing into a microphone while Scarlett Johansson was the starlet in desire. But, opposite of the R&B spectrum, this was about a man who was passionately and deeply in love with his woman; no matter if they appeared to be opposites to other people and didn’t look right together, they had each other, and he would always love her. It’s one of the more heartfelt songs on the album (if not the most), simply because of the soul behind the song that you can feel and relate to if you’ve been or currently are in that state of love in your life. No one can predict when and who they’ll fall in love with, but love at first sight isn’t always a myth. He’s definitely expressing himself wholeheartedly, and it’s one of the reasons why you can appreciate song for what it is. The blues guitar, horns and subtle percussions threw this song back into a nostalgic period, but it was like lounge music. Smooth, laid back, but it also carried a soulful punch that you could feel – all great elements to making a great R&B song.

This album may feel as if it’s one project that has a bunch of songs that can be singles (which is true), but there’s a difference between having a bunch of songs thrown together that have cohesiveness to each other or relevance and just having a bunch of songs that are just singles and don’t make sense to have together in the first place. For the duration of this album, Justin has taken a step ahead in his life personally, but sonically it does translate towards a more mature state of being. The music clearly isn’t trying to sound like his older albums which were more up-tempo and for the youngsters, but instead the music is grown-up and is a composition of art in sound. Let The Groove In starts off, and you feel the need to hit one Victor Cruz salsa dance just for the hell of it. Every time I listen to this song, and it’s like ‘hold on, I need a dance partner.’ Where the song is placed, I would have moved it up a few notches because ‘Suit & Tie’ and ‘Don’t Hold The Wall’ clearly had all of the energy in the beginning, but as it’s been demonstrated, the up and down tempo wasn’t always consistent, so perhaps at this point, JT was just going to end it the way he started, it would have made sense. The song had a very heavy Latin presence in the beginning, and then swayed its way to Pop. There are a lot of elements about this album that I liked, but when it came down to production, Timbaland and Timberlake (Timbros?) came together and both of them were allowed to flourish their talents: JT on the vocals, Timbo on everything else. They were definitely in the groove of things when they made this album. The 2nd single to come out (shortly after the Grammys) gave the people hope that this was going to be a good album after all. It’s funny, because when hearing this initially, the beat sounds deathly similar to ‘Cry Me a River’, but clearly that was a complete 180 of what Mirrors was about. You can call it JT coming full circle since Justified, but he’s a married man, and the person who’s practically ‘the other half of him’ is the woman whom he loves. The pain that one would have to go through with trying to rebuild after dismal relationships – no one has time for that, and it’s evident that JT doesn’t want that to happen. Can’t lose; won’t lose – it’s that simple. It highlights the theme of the album – having that 20/20 vision to see what you have right in front of you, and that it’s a metaphor of life that we should take on with our lifestyles. Everything in life is a reflection of who you are as a person: your lifestyle, your wife, your job, and your children – everything. It goes back to having that tunnel vision when it comes to focusing on the person (or thing – I don’t judge) that means the most to you. My favourite beat change up of the album had to be on this song, because it was the piano that caught me the most along with the simple beat – the delivery of it all was pretty genius on how it was composed – you can’t help yourself but to Pop Lock or Lean & Snap like it’s 2005 all over again. It instantly reminded me of Sammie’s ‘You Should Be My Girl’ because it was basically a slowed down version of the beat – that’s just how I heard it.

The last song on the standard version of the album was probably the best written song overall and best sung besides That Girl & Pusher Love Girl. Blue Ocean Floor provided a great metaphorical look into what Justin’s love life has been like. If we’ve all been students of the Discovery Channel, you’d know that the Ocean floor is way deep down in the Earth (depending on where you go). It gets so dark that the sun’s light can’t even hit that far, but the love can’t be lost anywhere, because JT’s treating his heart like it’s SONAR and he’ll be able to find his woman simply through that. It’s really romantic and poetic, and it’s like when Frank Ocean ended nostalgia, ULTRA with ‘American Wedding’, it was (essentially unanimous) arguably the best song of the album. There were a few people who suggested that this would make the perfect Coldplay song, and you know what? It’s true, because you can perfectly picture Chris Martin singing this song, and the production of it is really smooth overall. You can honestly tell that Justin has found serenity in his life because of how he’s professing his love for his wife all throughout the album, and to bring it to an end like this, it summarizes the mental & emotional state of a changed man – love is a drug; they both of positive and negative effects, but no negatives were present here.

The bonus songs, Dress On & Body Count were cool, but I’m glad that they stayed off the standard album version. ‘Dress’ would have been perfect if Timbaland didn’t decide to rap on it (make beats and the very occasional feature will suffice), but aside from it – it reminded me of Kanye’s ‘Hell of a Life’ (minus falling in love/marrying a Porn Star), only because he said he’d marry her in the same spot, get married and all of that (just something I noticed).

“…got married in a bathroom
Honeymoon on the dance floor” – Kanye West

The beat for this was wicked all the way around (with that little exception I pointed out beforehand), and it still implies the ‘vision’ symbolism that has been consistent through the album.

When I first heard ‘Body Count’, I can’t lie, because of the guitar it reminded me of ‘Like I Love You’ from Justified (which was produced by The Neptunes, if you didn’t remember). It made me laugh, because the body count topic (the number of people a person has had sex with) is always frequently discussed, depending on how you use your social networks, so I had a feeling that JT was peaking into the conversations of Twitter and said “you know what? Let me do something with this.” This is definitely a club song, and it was probably Justin at his weakest point on the album, but it did show flashes of old JT because of production and style – it’s groovy.

My overall view of this album (minus the bonus songs) is that it’s good to see that Justin Timberlake has re-emerged from his absence to give great music again. No one knows just when we’ll get another album, so the fact that it’s only 10 songs doesn’t bother me, because the song lengths made up for that. When people said that Justin Timberlake stole Robin Thicke’s style for this album, I had to really think about that, go listen to some of his music and come back with this – the style of singing that Justin brought in with some of the songs were reminiscent of Thicke’s style, but in contrast, they sound completely different vocally. Justin has a greater range because Thicke is more of the soft spoken and sultry type, whereas JT can bring more energy and flare to his sound. As far as I’m concerned, JT has always overshadowed Robin Thicke, so a lot of people wouldn’t know why there would be comparisons in the first place unless you listened to both of them faithfully. Most people who’ve heard of Robin Thicke probably only heard ‘Lost Without U’ & ‘Love You Girl’, and that’s being straight up. There are a few reasons why people will either love or hate this album, and the biggest reason is the song length. A lot of people complained about (why, I don’t know), but if people don’t have the patience, they’ll skip over it, although the songs are greatly composed. R&B songs generally are very lyrically driven, and there are songs in which lyrics are not the main focal point, but the thing that I liked about this album is that there was a balance between the moods: something for the lovers, something for the dancers – everyone’s happy. If you’re single, you might hate this album (especially if you just came off of a tough break up). It’s a happy album that fully emphasizes the idea of love and just what the right love can do to someone. Everyone is meant to have that special person and you want to tell the world about it – that was the case on this album. When you’re high, I’m told that your senses can heighten in a way – JT was high off love, and his perception and vision made everything clearer as he levitated over the songs, one after the other. I think that’s what made the album great, because he remained consistent with the theme while bouncing between different moods. Production was solid, and the album was entertaining as a whole. I’d say that it’s definitely worth the money if you happen to go out and get yourself some physical copies. For his third album, it’s definitely not the best one, but if it’s the 3rd best of the 3, then that’s still a positive thing. Listen to it, enjoy it, grasp your opinion, for this is mine along with my review, but for now

That’s My Word & It STiXX

One thought on “Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience – The STiXXclusive Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s