It’s been six years since pre-teen heartthrob turned suave Saturday Night Live favorite Justin Timberlake released an album. He broke his dry spell on March 15 with “The 20/20 Experience,” a confusing showcase of what happens when conventional pop music mixes with beats befitting a New York City nightclub.
“20/20” has no easily defined genre. Each song is an eclectic mix of sounds, including Motown-styled instruments, beatboxing, Middle Eastern-styled chanting and jazz, all with Timberlake’s famous falsetto voice soaring over the background noise. The diversity in genre is what sets “20/20” apart from most contemporary pop albums, and certainly from anything audiences heard from Timberlake before, but it is also the cause of the album’s greatest problems.
Most songs have a catchy beginning but end up losing focus as they drag on. The fifth track, “Tunnel Vision,” begins with a weird jazz fusion and eventually transitions to violins, a child talking, synthetic beats, snaps and annoying shrieks. The six-minute, 46-second long song lasts far too long for all of the bizarre genre twists to fit together naturally. Frankly, it becomes difficult to listen to once the heavy breathing and girly screams kick in.
“20/20” is a huge departure from his previous album, “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” which had pop sounds typical of a former boy-band star like Timberlake, but the album is not completely devoid of catchy tunes. Between the muddled and overloaded tracks lay a few gems, like “That Girl,” which features something of a jazz duo playing along with Timberlake’s soulful voice. Singles “Mirrors” and “Suit & Tie” also bring this soulful and catchy pop sound and manage to do so without mixing characteristics of a dozen other genres.
“The 20/20 Experience” is, all in all, an interesting comeback for Timberlake. The album is at its best when the songs are simple and classic, like the slow and R&B reminiscent “Pusher Love Girl.” It seems that Timberlake, along with producer Timbaland, is attempting to redefine the pop genre but unfortunately makes tracks too busy for them to be coherent.
Two and a half stars.