Rating: 3 stars
Justin Timberlake's motives weren't entirely clear when he dropped the single "Suit and Tie" in January, more than six years after the release of his last studio album. The part R&B, part dance song isn't exactly "SexyBack." But with the release of "The 20/20 Experience," Timberlake's bold move makes so much more sense. "Suit and Tie" is a perfect snapshot of the entire album's vibe. Timberlake leaves the flash of dance club strobe lights for the soft glow of a neosoul nightclub. "The 20/20 Experience" is a nod to classic R&B without throwing it all the way back. The album is a mix of past and present, with JT providing smooth vocals over long-time collaborator Timbaland's equally cool beat. Yes, even with Timbaland in the producer chair, this album steers clear of sounding like yet another album produced by Timbaland. He and Timberlake instead bring in new influences without totally tearing apart a great working relationship. The duo works best together on "Suit and Tie," even though they probably didn't need Jay-Z to rap in the middle of the song. Jay-Z's cameo really doesn't serve much purpose other than setting up a summer tour with Timberlake. The track's overall effectiveness is nearly matched on "Strawberry Bubblegum." "Hey, hey, hey smacking that strawberry bubblegum," Timberlake sings while hitting his trademark falsetto. The song keeps a certain sexiness despite its somewhat basic lyrics. And that's no easy feat either, when you consider the song runs longer than eight minutes. In fact, "Strawberry Bubblegum" is one of seven tracks on the 10-song album that runs longer than seven minutes. Three of those eclipse the eight-minute mark. "The 20/20 Experience" is simply an album that was created to be listened to in its entirety. It's not a vehicle to manufacture radio-ready singles, mostly due to the bloated song times. There are only a couple of tracks where the long run times become cumbersome, and both of them are on the back end of the album. "Mirrors" sounds the closest to Timberlake's past hits, and probably would be the most radio-friendly track on this release if it didn't end with nearly a minute of him singing "ahh, ahh-ahh-ahh." The album-closing "Blue Ocean Floor" also could be trimmed down. The dreamy track brings the album to a soft close, but goes on for a little too long. The soothing sound turns into an elongated whimper about halfway through the song's 7:20. Despite a somewhat disappointing ending, "The 20/20 Experience" is best listened to from start to finish rather than picking and choosing your favorite tracks. It's clear Timberlake used a much different thought process when putting together this album. Now, it's up to the listeners to do the same.