Album Review: Justin Timberlake's 'The 20/20 Experience'

Album Review: Justin Timberlake's 'The 20/20 Experience'

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Does he have perfect vision?

With "The 20/20 Experience," Justin Timberlake has made a work that is a complete anathema in Pop World 2013: an album that is meant to be listened to from start to finish.

As a whole, “The 20/20 Experience,” out March 19, is a deeply retro effort that pays homage to Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Frank Sinatra in both music and sentiment. However, Timberlake and producer Timbaland don’t get stuck in the past and, as much as the album is influenced by musical icons of yore, it is determined to look to the future as well.

If Timberlake is feeling the hot breath of newer, fresher artists like Bruno Mars —his most obvious heir apparent— or Frank Ocean breathing down his neck, he doesn’t show it. Quite the opposite: Timberlake infuses “The 20/20 Experience” with a disarming, radiant confidence that occasionally surpasses the material. He’s a one-man charm offensive and an electrifying performer, as his most recent stint on “Saturday Night Live” showed.

At its best, “The 20/20 Experience” feels like its own invention: an exploration into what it means to take the traditional confines of pop and then see how far those boundaries can be pushed. It’s not a new idea for Timberlake: on 2006’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” he and Timbaland set about deconstructing pop, only to construct a new monster, filled with shape-shifting songs and musical interludes. To keep with that theme, at its worst, “The 20/20 Experience”  feel like sets of unfinished lab experiments stretched far too thin. Every one of the 10 tunes here creeps up to or surpasses the seven-minute mark, often to their own detriment.

The album opens with “Pusher Love Girl,”  a sultry, slinky stunner that finds Timberlake breaking out his clarion clear falsetto early. Over hand claps and horns, he pays homage to the female that means more to him than any drug. She’s his “hydroponic jelly bean.” Is there anyone else on God’s green earth that could pull off calling someone that? Like many of the songs on “20/20,” about five minutes in, “Pusher Love Girl” morphs into a swirling interlude as he chants, “I’m just a junkie, a junkie for your love.”

Other highlights include first single, the mood-setting, Jay-Z-starring “Suit & Tie"; and the delicious “Strawberry Bubblegum,” a Prince-inspired pop confection laced with plenty of innuendo. He’ll be your blueberry lollipop, baby, and he’s going to love you till “we make it pop."  Current single, “Mirrors,"  is a pop marvel, and, as he’s shown by his television performances with his band, JT and the Tennessee Kids, it only gets better as it is performed live. The gorgeous melody features layer upon layer of Timberlake’s vocals stacked upon each other until it feels like they can reach the heavens.

“Mirrors,” and possibly every song on here,  is an ode to Timberlake’s wife, Jessica Biel. The album is a veritable love letter to her, but an honest one: one that combines carnal urges with the fears and tribulations of what it means to be a man in a serious, committed relationship. On the soulful slow jam “Spaceship Coupe,”  he’s ready to get his groove on in their “space lover cocoon” as they trip the galactic light fantastic.  On  the horn-drenched, old-style “That Girl,” introduced by an emcee as if he and his band are playing in a club in the ‘60s, Timberlake sells every note of devotion. The album closes with the underwater, dreamy, sound-effect laden kaleidoscope of “Blue Ocean Floor,” which sounds like something from Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange.” The song is a druggy, slo-mo, strange slice.

While there are some gems on “The 20/20 Experience,” the listeners’ reactions will depend largely on how big a journey they are willing to take. Too often, Timberlake--and Timbaland-- forego any semblance of a hook or a catchy chorus (in fact there’s nary one to be found on the album) for experimental sonic landscapes.  They confuse repetition with creating an actual song. On “Let the Groove Get In,” which will make an incredible dance remix, the African and Latin rhythms enchant and captivate, but they never go anywhere or actually do anything.


It’s a trippy record and a daring one, but very few of the songs deserve the over-extended treatment they receive. Most of the tunes would have greatly benefitted from some trimming, even if that meant delivering a 40-minute album instead of a 70-minute one.

The consistent thread is, of course, Timberlake’s self-assured vocals. Whether he’s singing in falsetto or in a lower register or rapping or vocalizing non-sensical words, his delivery sounds never less than inspired. In a way that few contemporary artists have, Timberlake has a clear command of what works for him and he’s a thrilling vocalist. But in hindsight, “The 20/20 Experience” could have used a little more focus.

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Watch: Paramore's new lyric video for 'Still Into You'

Watch: Paramore's new lyric video for 'Still Into You'

A story told by shadow hands

Following “Now,” the first single from its self-titled fourth album,  Paramore has premiered a new tune, “Still Into You.”

[More after the jump...]

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Interview: Snoop Dogg on Snoop Lion, 'Reincarnated' and Tupac Shakur

Interview: Snoop Dogg on Snoop Lion, 'Reincarnated' and Tupac Shakur

Plus, he answers Bunny Wailer's issues about his turn to reggae

Snoop Dogg has had a change of heart. In the documentary, “Reincarnated,” about the making of his new reggae-influenced album of the same name, he explains that he felt the need to put positive energy and love into the universe through his music.  “There’s so much negativity and death and destruction that we need to match that with peace, love and happiness, as opposed to matching that negative with a negative,” he tells HitFix.

As the documentary, which opens Friday, chronicles, Snoop Dogg, now known as Snoop Lion, goes to Jamaica to record “Reincarnated” with production duo Major Lazer at the helm. While much of the movie shows him getting stoned with any and everyone, there are also poignant segments that touch upon his path and light the way to his unexpected conversion to Rastafarianism. “I wasn’t expecting nothing but a reggae album, and the spirit called me,” he tells HitFix.

As he records, he meets with Bunny Wailer, helps his cousin through a tragedy that occurs during their trip, and tries to resolve the horrible pain he still feels about his friend Nate Dogg’s death, as well as Tupac Shakur’s murder. He also discovers a sense of connection between the rappers, like Bob Marley, growing up in Trenchtown in Jamaica and his own upbringing in Long Beach, Calif. “It gave me a feeling of, ‘wow, music is the same no matter where you go.’ It made me feel like what we were doing as kids was definitely destiny.”

A few days ago, I interviewed Snoop at Westlake Recording Studios in West Hollywood, Calif. Though he was running about 90 minutes behind, when I did sit down with him (he, of course, was lighting up between interviews), he was very forthcoming about the project and how long he thinks Snoop Lion will be around (will he ever sing “Gin & Juice” again?). He candidly addressed why he will never be able to let go of Tupac’s death, and had a few words for Wailer, who has disavowed Snoop’s reggae career and the intention behind it.

Whether it’s the marijuana or his nature or both, Snoop Dogg is definitely the mellowest person I’ve even interviewed who was vertical.

The album, “Reincarnated,” which also features Drake and Chris Brown,  as well as Snoop’s daughter, Cori B, comes out April 23. He also talks about how being a parent informed his changes.

 

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<p>Justin Timberlake</p>

Justin Timberlake

Credit: Patrick Seeger/AP

Justin Timberlake takes over the CW on March 19

Enjoy the latest performances from 'Timberweek' on 'Jimmy Fallon'

Justin Timberlake took over NBC this week with last Saturday’s guest hosting of “Saturday Night Live” and his 5-night stand on “Late Night WIth  Jimmy Fallon.”

[More after the jump...]

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Justin Timberlake's top 10 singles: 2001-2013

Justin Timberlake's top 10 singles: 2001-2013

Do you agree with our selections?

As Justin Timberlake’s new solo album, “The 20/20 Experience” prepares to land in stores March 19, we take a look back at his best singles over the course of his career, whether as a solo artist, a member of ‘N Sync or as a featured artist.  These are based on our preference, not the song's chart rank. Regardless of whether you agree with our selections, there’s no denying that Timberlake brings something special to every song to which he lends his glorious falsetto and undeniable style...even if he isn't wearing a suit and tie.
 

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<p>Baauer</p>

Baauer

'Harlem Shake' spends a fourth week atop the Billboard Hot 100

Who else is making chart moves this week?

Harlem Shake” makes it four weeks in a row atop the Billboard Hot 100 even though Baauer’s viral sensation drops in YouTube streaming and radio airplay (and is also the subject of a dispute by two vocalists).

The top three positions remain static as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” stays at No. 2 and Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man” holds at No. 3, according to Billboard.

Rihanna’s “Stay” featuring Mikky Ekko rises 5-4, while Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” rises 8-5 following the song’s performance on “Saturday Night Live.”

Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” falls 4-6, Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” slips 6-7,  Will.i.am and Britney Spears’ “Scream & Shout” inches 7-8, Lil Wayne’s “Love Me” featuring Drake and Future climbs 11-9, and Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven” spends its 20th week in the Hot 100 at No. 10, down one spot from last week.

Look for Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason,” featuring fun’s Nate Ruess to enter the top 10 next week, as it soars 47-18 this week.

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<p>Taylor Swift in &quot;22&quot;</p>

Taylor Swift in "22"

Watch: Taylor Swift and her gal pals star in new clip for '22'

It's girls day out in the latest music video from 'Red'

Taylor Swift didn’t go to college, but she’s living the sorority girl life in her new video for “22.” Albeit a very G-rated one.

[More after the jump...]


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<p>Dave Stewart and Orianthi play together at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on Monday evening.</p>

Dave Stewart and Orianthi play together at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on Monday evening.

Credit: Grammy Museum

Interview: Orianthi on Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper and her new album

Guitar virtuoso's 'Heaven In This Hell' is out today

As Orianthi signed autographs for a long line of fans Monday night at Los Angeles’ Grammy Museum, a teenage girl, her hair dyed the same blonde shade as Orianthi’s, shyly approached and asked her to inscribe her signature PRS SE Orianthi  guitar, a Christmas gift from her parents.

Orianthi, 28,  took her time with the girl, giving her plenty of encouragement. When she started playing more than 15 years ago, her guitar heroes were all male, so she knows how special it is that young girls now have someone like her to light the way.

“You could just tell she had a passion for it, that’s what I was like,” Orianthi told Hitfix the next morning. “I want to inspire more girls to play guitar. It’s not easy to be a female musician. To be a role model in any way is awesome.”

When she was growing up in Australia, her life changed when she saw Carlos Santana on his “Dance of the Rainbow Serpent” tour.  She turned to her father and said that was her career path. By the time she was 15, Orianthi had quit school and was playing in cover bands in Adelaide area bars, “putting guitar solos in Kylie Minogue songs.”

 In short order, she was opening for Steve Vai and Santana, then playing with Carrie Underwood, and, most notably, rehearsing with Michael Jackson for the ill-fated “This Is It” tour  after being hand picked by the King of Pop as lead guitarist.

Orianthi, who is on this month’s cover of Guitar World (only the third woman to accomplish that feat) now splits her time between her solo career and playing in Alice Cooper’s band.

After our interview today, she was headed to Switzerland for a date with Cooper, before returning to the U.S. for her own show March 17 at the Whisky on L.A.’s Sunset Strip.

The guitar wizard’s latest solo album, “Heaven In This Hell,” came out March 12. The set, produced by Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, allows her to show off her full embrace of rock and blues much more than her previous efforts. “This album is totally me,” she says. “I’m just hoping that all the fans really dig it. It’s a little different.”

Indeed, the set is much grittier than her last full length album, 2009’s “Believe,” which included the pop hit, “According to You.”  “I didn’t want to be boxed in,” she says. “Some of the songs have rock, some have a country vibe some pop, and R&B vibe.”

She admits that leaving Geffen Records after “Believe” was a low point. “It was kind of, ‘I don’t have a record deal, what can I do?’ I just fell into writing an album, you meet people, you find contacts.”

Ultimately, she signed with Robo Records, who gave her the freedom to make the album she wanted. “You compromise a lot when you try to do a song for radio,” she says. “I want to make music that I can play live.”

Though she only played with Jackson for three months before his death, she learned a tremendous amount from the superstar. “Just watching him, the way he was. He really wanted to give the audience a show, make them feel like they were part of it,” she says. “He was very much of a perfectionist. It was about just putting yourself out there. He was just the best at what he did.”

She’s gleaned something from all her mentors. From Santana, “it’s all about transcending and getting to that zone. He has the same kind of childlike enthusiasm that he had when he was younger.  A lot of people that you meet get very jaded and turn off their lights and they don’t see everything brightly.”

On stage with Cooper, she’s learned to stay on her toes: “Lots of things are happening, whips and swords, balloons burst above my head,” she says. “There’s also a confetti cannon. I wasn’t aware it was behind me. It was right [behind] my butt. The sound guys were screaming that I had to [move]. I moved just in time. That would have been very painful.”

Orianthi isn’t sure just how many guitars she owns, adding only “I have a very healthy collection. Some are in Nashville, some in Los Angeles, some in Australia. I use them all.” Like B.B. King and his beloved Lucille, she gives them all names as well. Among her favorites are Pepper, a red-toned axe which she used when she auditioned for Jackson, and a green beauty named Frank. “When I want that heavier tone, I go use Frank....There’s a different energy that comes from them all, whether it’s the different wood or whoever put them together,” she says. “They’re all so great and different.”

While she finds if “comforting” to having a guitar within arm’s reach, she says the longest she’s ever gone without picking one up is probably a week:  “Sometimes, I play better if I leave it alone for a bit.”

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Watch: Kelly Rowland likes her 'Kisses Down Low' in new video

Watch: Kelly Rowland likes her 'Kisses Down Low' in new video

Candy-coated clip keeps it clean

Kelly Rowland shows some amazing restraint in the video for “Kisses Down Low,” the second single from her fourth studio album, “Talk A Good Game.”

[More after the jump...]

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Justin Timberlake 'loves' Kanye West, he declares on 'Jimmy Fallon'

Justin Timberlake 'loves' Kanye West, he declares on 'Jimmy Fallon'

Watch: Timberlake performs soulful 'Pusher Love Girl'

Oh Justin Timberlake, what a scamp you are! Last night on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” he played delightfully dumb when Fallon asked him about changing the lyrics to “Suit & Tie” on “Saturday Night Live” in response to a certain rapper’s earlier diss.

As we previously reported, while on stage in London a few weeks ago, as he seemed to be riffing about everything under the sun, Kayne West remarked “I got love for Hov,” meaning his “Watch The Throne” partner Jay-Z, who raps on “Suit & Tie,” but then added, “but I ain’t  f**king with that ‘Suit & Tie’.”

Timberlake had been silent, but very subtly he reworked the words to “Suit & Tie” on Saturday night to “My hit’s so sick got rappers acting dramatic.”

[More after the jump...]

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