No hyperbole intended, The 20/20 Experience is a masterclass in writing, production and sheer ambition.
Remember The Mickey Mouse Club? Well, obviously you don’t, because it was like in the early 90s and was shown in America, and at that point we had no means of watching shows that came from another country. And remember N*Sync yeah? More likely you do remember these guys – 5 fresh-faced scamps making largely rubbish 90s boy-band music. Nothing earth-shattering at all. Now, there are two common denominators across these parameters: JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake. Their careers seemed to be on a similar trajectory up until N*Sync, but when the band split Chasez’ debut solo single was entitled: “All Day Long I Dream About Sex,” and it’s fucking abominable…what of JT?
Well, he did ok musically, then did a bit of acting, then rocked up on SNL and convinced the world he seemed like a decent bloke, and no after a musical hiatus he’s back with the greatest pop album this century. No hyperbole intended, The 20/20 Experience is a masterclass in writing, production and sheer ambition.
The record is definitely a throwback to old school soul and funk, yet at the same time sounds box-fresh and unique. Nothing exemplifies this duality like the opening track, Pusher Love Girl, live versions of which have been doing the rounds for a while. The soaring strings, short phrases and JT’s Marvin Gaye-esque vocal send you back in time. The song builds to its natural climax, then out of the blue, turns on its head. One repeated guitar loop, vocals coming out from nowhere, it’s like they wrote two versions of the same song and couldn’t decide which one to use…so just used both. One thing’s for sure, Olly fucking Murs ain’t got an 8 minute opening track of this calibre in his locker. This is pop music at its absolute pinnacle.
It really is a record where the peaks far outweigh the troughs, and really, there aren’t that many troughs at all. Let The Groove Get In, with its warm electric piano and shimmering percussion is pure disco; Mirrors is 8 minutes of outrageous chorus that performs another complete U-turn a la Pusher Love; Blue Ocean Floor is an achingly beautiful closer, a guitar riff played backwards alongside ocean sounds and what seems to be the click-clack of a typewriter (maybe?) – it’s a really interesting beat, and Justin’s vocal is right on the money – sonorous, rich, breaking at just the right points.
I’ve touched upon it already, but the scope and ambition of this record really should be applauded. It’s a proper album, not just a collection of songs with obvious singles and a bit of filler. I mean, the fact that the majority tip 6 or 7 minutes should tell its own story. One of the big dangers of digital music is that the album as an artform threatens to become obsolete, with shuffle-functions and Spotify playlists encouraging people to pick and choose what songs they want to listen to. Any album that so directly demands you appreciate it in one sitting, and then delivers on that promise, is a good thing. Welcome back JT, don’t go for so long next ti—what? You’re putting out another album this year? Oh. Oh well that’s good then.