The hoopla surrounding the release of Justin Timberlake's lead single “Suit & Tie” off his third solo album The 20/20 Experience was massive. It was less of a release and more of an event. The video had its own trailer sponsored by Budweiser Platinum with the tagline “one platinum hit deserves another,” using liquor’s version of The Secret to prematurely predict the success of the record. Prior to that, Timberlake dropped a short visual of him walking into a studio, announcing the return from his seven-year hiatus. With bells and whistles that loud, The 20/20 Experience should have a bite as equal as its bark. It doesn’t; but it’s still damn good.
Timberlake opted to have longtime friend and collaborator Timbaland produce the entire album. JT had the best of his producers with his two previous works. With 2002’s Justified, he had the spacey sunshine-laced production from the Neptunes before it was replicated and slapped on unreleased Teyana Taylor albums. In 2006, Timberlake was arguably Timbaland’s first creative muse since the passing of Aaliyah, so FutureSexLoveSounds was the result of years of pent up beats from a production genius. There are glimpses of that historical chemistry between Timbo and Timber – “Tunnel Vision” being the best example – where Timbaland uses Justin’s voice as a flexible instrument to enhance his tech savvy soundscape. The album’s closer “Blue Ocean Floor” being another, reminiscent of an unplugged version of “LoveStoned/I Think She Knows.” The rest of the album is laden with mid-tempo catchy tunes that could all be successfully slid into any LiteFM station, with the exception of “Mirrors,” which sounds like a more pleasant version of the noxious breed of David Guetta-esque anthems that have infiltrated the airwaves as of late. The aforementioned “Suit & Tie” is jazzy and sexy, yet unshakeably like Robin Thicke, right down to the Jay-Z cameo (hear: “Meiple”). No one can finesse a set of scatty horns like Hov, but Timberlake tries his damnedest. The biggest success of The 20/20 Experience lies within Justin Timberlake being able to gracefully glide into Adult Contemporary Music without coming across as trite or cheesy. There is enough oomph for the youngins, yet a defined maturity that proves Timberlake’s overstanding of eventually aging out of the capricious sect of R&B.
That being said, the hype surrounding The 20/20 Experience will never live up to the actual product. Words like “incredible” and “classic” have been tossed around to describe the 10-track project following the streamed release of the album. It still doesn’t measure up to a week's worth of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon performances coupled with a self-indulgent (albeit hilarious) 5th time hosting SNL. That’s not to say 20/20 isn’t good; it will just never be as good as the marketing plan surrounding it. Should JT wait another seven years to release an album (then it will really be a “2020” experience), he can roll out the same red carpet for himself and probably yield the same reaction from fans. However, if the rumors are true and this is merely a Part One of what's to come in 2013, then JT's obstacle will be creating high grade music that doesn’t have a parade behind it.