With the release of his latest album The 20/20 Experience Justin Timberlake has been everywhere over the last few weeks. Beginning a couple of weeks ago with his turn at hosting Saturday Night Live and his subsequent induction into the SNL ” Five Timers Club” it would seem that the singer wants to make sure everyone knows he is returning to his first love, that is, making music. Guesting on the Jimmy Fallon show all of last week gave Timberlake a chance to show off the album as well as his comedic chops nightly to his core demographic.
Often when something is this hyped it cannot live up to the expectation set, in this case, though, the album succeeds on every level. Timberlake clearly has set his sights high, he does not just want to be a pop singer, he wants to be beyond the age bracket that loved him a decade ago in N’SYNC. Surprisingly, at least to me, he succeeds. The first single from the album called Suit and Tie made it clear that the singer wants to be beyond pop music, he wants, it seems, to be a cultural icon. Debuting the single on The Grammy Awards Timberlake made clear that stylistically if he could be anyone he would be Frank Sinatra, a singer that became a multi generational icon.
For me Suit and Tie is one of the weaker songs on the album, Not as catchy and with an ill inspired rap sequence from his friend Jay Z the song is far from great.
More successful are the songs where Timberlake tries to be neither Sinatra nor bring in the rap influences one can hear anywhere. When Timberlake brings his white soul talent to the strong influences of Prince, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and even Barry White he records some incredibly strong music.
The songs Strawberry Bubblegum begins with a Barry White intro and, with an ear worm chorus, fast becomes irresistible. Even better is Spaceship Coupe in which Timberlake sings ” that there is only room for two, and we can land and make love on the moon.” The song can easily be taken as a thirty year update of Little Red Corvette. Prince influences abound on the album but on this particular song it is a front and center right down to the mini guitar solo and the sounds that could be interpreted as a young lady feeling very good ala Prince’s Darling Nikki. Dig out your 1999 album, it seems clear Justin has.
Also catchy enough to drive you crazy is Let the Groove In with a chorus that puts me to mind of Micheal Jackson’s Wanna Be Starting Something. It is all one can do not to say Mama Say Mama San…any Micheal fan will get that reference. This shows Timberlake is in pretty special company with his sound and his influences.
Timberlake does not want to be limited, he said rather than making radio cuts and expanding them after the fact for extended play dance tracks that, on this album, he would release the full cuts and then cut them down for singles when necessary. Self indulgent it may be but so is chocolate and we never mind partaking.
Will Timberlake be the next Sinatra? That seems unlikely. He has, however, put a significant distance between himself and the other singers of his generation. If someone told me during his boy band days that I would one day write such a glowing review of his talent I would have bet the house against it, another example that one should never judge a performer too early. Timberlake is a multifaceted, widely talented, entertainer and a star in every way.