The seedy, sweaty pulse of FutureSex/LoveSounds only makes cameos here; The 20/20 Experience is much more interested in live instrumentation, expansive sound worlds, and allusions to yesteryear's big-band glories. Timberlake has made this clear from the start of the disc's campaign for world (see: airwave and record sales) dominance, leading off with the aptly titled/themed single Suit & Tie, continuing with the formal aesthetic of nearly all promotional material. Though the album spans genres and ages with positively reckless abandon, the feeling that this isn't just a bunch of button-mashing remains welcomely constant. Be it the Motown strut of That Girl, or the caribbean rhythm of Let the Groove In, the album's instrumentation sounds like, you know, real instruments. Credit long-time Timberlake collaborator Timbaland, who's production is never less than lively and exciting, and who's never meet a risk he wasn't chomping at the bit to take. In fact, this propensity towards big gambles comes to define the record as a whole, as likely to magnetize as it is to repel.
With this added sonic density comes ballooned-out song lengths; only one of 20/20's ten tracks clocks in at under five minutes, most prone to stretch out to around seven ticks. Presented in movements, most numbers burst forth from the word, 'go,' only to be reframed in a spacey, down-tempo redux in the closing moments. These bold structures, and the enveloping repetition which they employ, don't feel especially Top 40 friendly, and would likely prove endless amidst the A.D.D. onslaught of modern hit radio stations, but damn, can they fill up a room. It's an album that occupies space, and car speakers might not really be able to handle it.
But perhaps even more eye-catching than the rampant genre-hopping or extended playtimes is the disc's overwhelmingly positive outlook, a major rarity in the work of towering pop stars. While it seems goofy to credit Timberlake's recent marriage to actress Jessica Biel as the source of all smiles, JT himself certainly welcomes the theory. The tracks here aren't so much about getting that girl as they are about already having that girl, and loving every damn minute of it. This is never more poignant than on Mirrors, a no-holds-barred avowal of his love and appreciation for his better half that gushes with unselfconscious affection. It's cheesy. We're talking, 'might cause bloating and nausea in those with lactose intolerance,' cheesy, but it never feels like a put-on. Timberlake plays his Romeo both epic and straight-faced, belting through the tune's bombastic twin movements, inviting all people and nations to bask in his over-the-top joy. It's one of the best songs of the year so far, and I'm still trying to decide exactly how guilty I feel for writing that.
When it's all said and done, Justin Timberlake's latest is just about the last thing you'd expect: an album without a country. While its enormity and ambition might entice music nerds and elitists, an unmissable dose of corniness is nearly omni-present, the singer making embarrassing comparisons between his lover and addictive substances (Pusher Love Girl), crooning smoothly about Strawberry Bubblegum, and driving his Spaceship Coupe through a glittering cosmos of deserved eye-rolls. Those who just want to hear the guy bring SexyBack might even get a little bored, prone to skip outros, disinterested in the disc's joyous, contented world-view. All of this could lead to diminishing returns where bank accounts are concerned (though it sure hasn't yet), but those willing to take a moment and let Timberlake and Timbaland's ambitious offering marinate will almost undoubtably find themselves coming back for seconds.