Sunday, March 24, 2013

Does he still have it on number 3?

Justin Timberlake's 3rd "The 20/20 Experience" arrived recently after a 7 year gap that had many questioning if he'd ever release an album again.  The album I'm about to dive into is a difficult, but worthwhile disc.  The tracks run to epic lengths, the falsetto is a tad over-used (right from the start) but it is a bold statement.  It's an album only he could make.  As someone whose career began under strict controls (while he was still in N'Sync) this is the sound of someone who once withered under those controls striking out to let his freak flag fly - with a mix of neo-future R&B and supper-club suave coloring the entire package.

"Pusher Love Girl" gets things strutting along nicely with JT's take on the "sultry love interest as a drug you can't get enough of" trope.  It works nicely enough, then sinks into a Timbaland showcase / JT vocal repeater break near the last 3 minutes (for reference, only 1 track on this album clocks in at under 5 mnutes.)  One gets the feeling he is trying to capture the feel of live artists doing lengthier versions of songs.  This approach has been tried before by others with very mixed success.  It gets in the way of otherwise fine first single "Suit & Tie" which rides along on a just-peppy-enough beat that manages to show JT in a far more flattering light.  Gone is the ultra-carnality that peppered his last album and out comes (again) a far more "Rico suave" kind of vibe.  But it isn't corny - if only because he knows how to work a pop song (those days in the super-controlled world of N'Sync surely did him some good, no?)  Jay-Z's verse is ok, but the song would be just as good with or without it.

The freak flag continues to fly high with the cricket-chirp accented almost-tango stomper "Don't hold the wall" which is as much a showcase of Timbaland's esoteric production tricks as it is a fine track for JT to strut-sing atop of.  It's catchy ear candy, but it loses itself in the production flourishes a tad too much near the end.  Again, a little editing / trimming the fat would have made it perfect - as it is here it's simply good.  "Strawberry Bubblegum" rights the ship a bit with bleep/bloop synths and a simple beat that lets the vocals shine - and a please-come-home-with-me-tonight jam unfolds.  And few people could sling a line like "You could be my strawberry bubblegum / and I'll be your blueberry lollipop" and not have it sound cheesy.  JT somehow manages it and even sneakily throws in a nod to the last hit N'Sync ever had ("Pop" anyone?)  The proceeding drags a bit with the cluttered, clanking "Tunnel Vision" - which is too busy, too weighed down with the production to let the vocals through - and it suffers greatly for this.  "Spaceship Coupe" suffers a bit too from over-wrought production and moments where the corny lyrics overwhelm the whole proceeding.  

Rather bizarrely, a later track "Mirrors" was released as the second single.  It is, sound-wise, as much a throwback to his debut solo release as anything else here, and while it comes across as a fine (if mawkish) ode to his current wife, it sounds as stale as day-old hard-as-a-brick bread.  The surprise comes with the album's dreamy, floaty closer "Blue Ocean Floor."  Timberlake has been quoted in interviews as saying this was a track borne of his affection for Radiohead.  It most certainly isn't at that same level of sublime weirdness (that Radiohead does excel in when at their best) but it is truly "out of his comfort zone" as he stated in the same interview - and is made a far better track because of this.

Bottom line - this boy-band crooner is all grown up - only now, he is less desperate to flaunt it.  This makes for an enjoyable suave-drenched album #3 - and makes one wish he takes the stepping-out-of-his-usual-style vibe of the closing track to more interesting places for album number 4.  The potential is definitely there.

No comments:

Post a Comment