Justin Timberlake's Musical Vision Isn't '20/20'

Mar 18, 2013
Originally published on March 18, 2013 5:59 pm

For his long anticipated return to music, Justin Timberlake pulled out all the stops. He hired an old colleague, the hit-making machine Timbaland, to produce. He got rap kingpin Jay-Z to do a cameo. As executive producer, Timberlake made sure everything has that state-of-the-art sheen. And as the tune "Tunnel Vision" shows, Timberlake leaned heavily on the sound that made him a star: elaborate multitracked vocal harmonies.

Sure enough, The 20/20 Experience is ultra-plush all the way. Exceedingly competent — and relentlessly bland. This is what it sounds like when a pop star gets too big to fail.

"Suit and Tie" is the allegedly danceable first single. Perhaps you've heard it? Timberlake has, after all, been carpet-bombing late-night TV to generate excitement for the album launch. He's wise to work overtime on the sell, because there's so little song there: This little bitty two-note excuse for a melody sounds like something a preschooler might sing while playing with sock puppets at the kitchen table.

Timberlake has never been what you'd call a visionary, but on his last album, he showed a great sense of the pop refrain. This time, he's just plain timid. The songs have no edge, no zip — they're generic medium-tempo loops that last way too long, with a few clocking in at close to eight minutes. The length allows Timberlake to bring you your full daily requirement of mindless clichés. Track one: love as drug. Track four: love as sugary bubblegum. Track six: love as something that happens in a spaceship built for two.

There's a real art to lightweight feel-good pop. And for the most part, it's missing from Timberlake's latest. What we have, instead, is a celebrity feeling out his place in 2013, and you hear his worry. He's making calculations about the market, serving up a dim, cynical and decidedly limited vision of what pop music can be.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Justin Timberlake has come a long way since his early days on The New Mickey Mouse Club and as a singer for the boy band *NSYNC. He has since acted in some big movies, including "The Social Network." And as a singer now on his own, he's become a true chart-topping pop star. This week, Timberlake releases his first album since 2006. It's called "The 20/20 Experience." And critic Tom Moon says it offers a decidedly muddy vision of pop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRRORS")

TOM MOON, BYLINE: For his long-anticipated return to music, Justin Timberlake pulled out all the stops.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRRORS")

MOON: He hired an old colleague - the hit-making machine known as Timbaland - to produce. He got rap kingpin Jay-Z to do a cameo. As executive producer, Timberlake made sure everything has that state-of-the-art sheen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TUNNEL VISION")

MOON: And as that tune shows, Timberlake leaned heavily on the sound that made him a star, those elaborately multitracked vocal harmonies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TUNNEL VISION")

MOON: "The 20/20 Experience" is ultra-plush all the way, exceedingly competent and relentlessly bland. This is what it sounds like when a pop star gets too big to fail.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUIT AND TIE")

MOON: That's "Suit and Tie," the first single. Perhaps you've heard it. Timberlake has, after all, been carpet-bombing late-night TV to generate excitement for the album launch. He's wise to work overtime on the sell because there's so little song there. This little bitty two-note excuse for a melody sounds like something a preschooler might sing while playing with sock puppets at the kitchen table.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUIT AND TIE")

MOON: Timberlake has never been what you'd call a visionary, but on his last album, he showed a great sense of the pop hook. This time, he's just plain timid. The songs have no zip. They're generic medium-tempo loops that last way too long, a few clocking in at close to eight minutes. The length allows Timberlake to bring you your full daily requirement of mindless cliches. Track one, love as drug. Track four, love as sugary bubblegum. Track six, love as something that happens in a spaceship built for two.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPACESHIP COUPE")

MOON: There's a real art to lightweight feel-good pop, and for the most part, it's missing from Justin Timberlake's latest. What we have, instead, is a celebrity trying to find his place in 2013, and it sounds like he's worried. He's making calculations about the market and serving up a dim, cynical, decidedly limited vision of what pop music can be.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUSHER LOVE GIRL")

BLOCK: Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Justin Timberlake's new album is called "The 20/20 Experience."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUSHER LOVE GIRL")

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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