Maybe it was his foray into film that did it, but scratch away at the pompous promotion and you’ll find that The 20/20 Experience pulls off precisely what Timberlake could only attempt, seven years ago, with FutureSex/LoveSounds: the application of pop with a cinematic eye.
Never a man svelte of style, what makes Timberlake’s return so captivating is the way in which it acts as a confluence for the best pop, R&B and soul moments to come out of the last handful of decades. Take ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ for example – a track that, in its eight minutes, references not only Barry White in its introductory croon, but also the ambient R&B soundscapes that have come to be popularised by the likes of Drake and Frank Ocean. However, the most playful homage comes during its refrain, in which Timberlake makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to ‘Pop’, the 2001 hit from his early days in ‘N Sync.
Not only is this a fine comeback from JT, but the record marks a true return to form from close collaborator Timbaland, whose work post-2008 felt uncharacteristically uninspired. ‘Don’t Hold the Wall’ breathes new life into the Eastern-influenced production that made chart-toppers of the likes of Nelly Furtado and Missy Elliott. In many ways he sounds as revitalised as Timberlake, if not more so, for the stellar single ‘Mirrors’ may well be one of his finest projects.
In many ways, the release of The 20/20 Experience‘s largely lacklustre second instalment allowed us to appreciate what went so right with its counterpart. Contrary to the beliefs of its detractors, The 20/20 Experience isn’t simply maximalist for its own sake. Rather, its indulgences are a necessary means through which Timberlake is able to tread the line between nostalgia and futurism, all while wearing the sharpest shoes on the planet.