It’s Justin Timberlake Week! Right on the heels of his record-making, ratings-boosting SNL-hosting gig, JT has decided to get his new album, The 20/20 Experience, out to fans early. It’s not due to hit stores until Tuesday, March 19, but it’s currently streaming on iTunes in its entirety.
The official EW review of Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience is below, and a version of it will appear in the magazine on newsstands next Friday, March 15.
The 20/20 Experience
He’s back behind the mic for the first time in almost seven years — but Justin Timberlake isn’t quitting the whole acting thing. He actually loves movies so much, he’s even playing a movie star on his records. Since his last album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, he has appeared in some good films (Alpha Dog, The Social Network) and some not-so-good ones (The Love Guru does not an Oscar winner make). But he’s got the Old Hollywood thing down on his new album, The 20/20 Experience, which finds him dressed up like a member of the Rat Pack. It’s no accident that the singer, who’s now 32, released the first single, “Suit & Tie,” a swinging ode to Tom Ford tuxedos, on the same night as the Golden Globes; he seems to be campaigning for a statuette of his own.
Check him out on “Tunnel Vision,” playing the rom-com director: “Just like a movie shoot,” he croons, “I’m zoomin’ in on you… as we ride off into the sun.” Listen to him starring in a sci-fi flick on “Spaceship Coupe,” where he propositions some alien creature to “make love on the moon.” Or catch him in the gritty two-junkies-in-love story “Pusher Love Girl,” where he’s all hopped up on romance (and hydroponics). There’s even a submarine epic, “Blue Ocean Floor,” that starts with him trying to pick up signals from 20,000 leagues under and ends with wishy-washy water noises that could be the sound of his bubble bath draining. It’s a movie you watch with your ears.
Even when Timberlake’s not singing his way through a big-screen drama on 20/20, the music has a cool, cinematic vibe. For that, he can thank his longtime collaborator Timbaland, who’s the main producer here. His basic sound adheres to the JT formula: golden falsetto, electro-R&B grooves, Motown horns, and other retro glitz that will seduce your mom. The best thing here is “Let the Groove Get In,” which builds from African hand-drum rhythms to a classic Michael Jackson jam, circa Off the Wall. But the real thrills are in the details: If you borrowed some of JT’s chronic from “Pusher Love Girl,” you could spend long headphoned hours appreciating the chirping crickets of “Don’t Hold the Wall,” or the porn-star gasps of “Spaceship Coupe,” or the warped-melody opening of “Blue Ocean Floor,” which sounds like Timbaland is playing the song backward. That last one is a neat trick for a love-gone-wrong ballad; you can imagine Timberlake actually pushing rewind on the relationship, undoing the damage until it plays the right way again.
As Timbaland’s leading man, Timberlake never lets you forget that he’s acting. “Don’t be mad at me!” he pleads on the ’60s-soul track “That Girl,” as if he’s professing his love after sneaking back into bed at 4 a.m. (Naw, girl, I was just hanging with the boys!) If he’s devoted to anyone, it’s himself: “You reflect me,” he coos on “Mirrors.” “I love that about you.” All of which should make him a very convincing movie star, except that there’s ultimately not enough showbiz razzle-dazzle here. The songs are a little too slow, too long, too lacking in the flashy tap-dance energy that made him a giant solo success when he was 23. Maybe he wants to be the young Frank Sinatra. But for now, he’ll have to settle for being a slightly older JT. B
“Let the Groove Get In” An MJ-inspired dance-off
“That Girl” Finger-snap soul