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Justin Timberlake returns with timeless R&B effort

Dart Adams

Justin Timberlake is coming off of an extended hiatus from making music where he became a bona fide actor and a legitimate leading man in Hollywood.

After years of complaints from fans, JT has returned to the musical arena with a vengeance in 2013. His Jay-Z assisted lead single “Suit & Tie” was first introduced to the public via a stylish lyric video on YouTube and was instantaneously everywhere.

There was a bit of controversy caused by his vocals and overall song structure resembling Robin Thicke’s most recent material. Comparisons to Mayer Hawthorne’s musical approach and aesthetic have also been made, but in the end, it all comes down to the finished product.

Is the music itself original? Is “The 20/20 Experience” good? If so, how good is it?

The project gets off to a rather exquisite start with the jam “Pusher Lover Girl,” which features perfectly delivered falsetto vocals that would cause Prince to raise an eyebrow. It also has lush strings throughout, plus a classic Timbaland breakdown at the end that Ginuwine would’ve killed for back in 1997.

We go from that into the lead single that unnerved some Robin Thicke fans (and even Jay-Z’s “little brother” Kanye West), “Suit & Tie.” The fact remains that it was a perfect uptempo, bouncy initial single with the perfect feature artist to generate the buzz necessary to grab the attention of fans and promote the album’s release.

“Don’t Hold The Wall” opens with some vocal runs that are reminiscent of Mayer Hawthorne’s throwback ‘60s Philly Soul and Detroit R&B sound but slinks right back into that 2000s-era Timbaland/Danjahandz sound.

“Strawberry Bubblegum” is another example of producer Timbaland exerting his mastery of composition, as the final three minutes switches from a modern R&B song seamlessly into something that sounds like Sly & The Family Stone’s “Stay.”

Yet another testament to Timbaland’s chemistry with Timberlake is the way the two following songs, “Tunnel Vision” and “Spaceship Coupe,” perfectly bookend each other. The two-song stretch is the height of the entire album as both “Tunnel Vision” and “Spaceship Coupe” are devoid of any outside influence besides Timberlake and Timbaland.

The next track is another winner, the ‘70s soul-influenced “That Girl” featuring his ensemble The Tennessee Kids providing the sonic backdrop. “Let The Groove In” effortlessly blends an early ‘70s Fania All-Stars Latin Soul and Afrobeat sound in the song’s beginning and turns into a purely Timbaland/Timberlake creation over the final two minutes.

The least inspired song on the entire project is the album track “Mirrors,” but it’s the perfect lead-in to the album’s somber downtempo closer “Blue Ocean Floor.”

In the end, the album doesn’t sound like anything but an excellent project from Justin Timberlake and his longtime collaborator Timbaland, in association with the production duo of Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon and Rob Knox to create something that sounds wholly new and fresh.

The final verdict? By turning each of the 10 songs spanning 70 minutes into individual compositions utilizing live instrumentation all throughout “The 20/20 Experience” with different transitions, it heightened the listening experience immensely.

This is treated as a timeless piece of art rather than simply a modern R&B album that was made purely to move a significant amount of units. This album was clearly made to be performed live and experienced in one continuous listen, just like the classic soul/R&B LPs of yesteryear.

Welcome back, Mr. Timberlake.

Well played, sir.