Timberlake’s 20/20 Vision could bring R&B back into focus

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7 years after the release of FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake has come back to the music game to release an early favorite for the album of 2013, The 20/20 Experience. The album itself stands alone as a suite close to perfect as one can come in this era, but Timberlake’s re-emergence on the music scene has a lot of R&B observers wondering if it’s come to blue-eyed soul saving a once proud genre of black music and black musicians. We’ll get into that a little later down these paragraphs.

As for the album itself, Timberlake described the process on iHeartRadio as he and super producer Timbaland locking themselves in the studio and having fun with the process. That creative discipline is evident on an album that is only 10 tracks deep, but gives you more bang for your buck, clocking in at just over an hour and 10 minutes, roughly seven minutes per song.

From the opening strings on “Pusher Love Girl” to the intoxicating synths on “Blue Ocean Floor,” The 20/20 Experience serves as a reminder of Timbaland’s standing as one of the great producers of our time. There is nary a wasted sound on the entire album, all vibing well with Timberlake’s mature falsetto.

The lead single “Suit & Tie” (featuring Jay-Z) has a chopped and screwed element to it in between the upbeat shuffle of Timberlake getting his grown man on and promising to show his lady “A few thangs about love.” It’s a great way to start off the warm season, a party anthem that will take over the radio for the next few months.

The album’s highlights (in no particular order) are “Don’t hold the wall” (which is destined to be a club classic), the aformentioned Pusher Love Girl, and a couple of slow grooves that can get any after-hours party jumping, “Spaceship Coupe” and of course “Blue Ocean Floor.” “Mirrors” and “That Girl” are also standout tracks that could be looked at as a dedication to his wife Jessica Biel, charting their relationship which of course is now a marriage.

All in all, The 20/20 Experience is a great return to music for Timberlake, who plans to release the second part of this album in November, giving other R&B artists something to measure up against when dropping albums this year. Which brings me to the second half of this post.

I had a brief discussion with someone on Twitter the day the album dropped and there was a point made that always intrigued me – that Justin Timberlake, a white man, was making better R&B than black men, who pioneered the genre and make up most of the artists in it. So the question I’m sure folks are asking is why can’t all R&B albums be like Timberlake’s? Well for starters, we should let time decide if The 20/20 Experience is a classic, although it passes the initial listen test.

Also, as much as I’d like to believe that Timberlake seems to be the only one capable of this kind of album, it’s simply not the case. Frank Ocean’s Grammy-winning Channel Orange and Miguel’s solid Kaleidoscope Dream were/are albums that can’t be duplicated but used as a measuring stick for anyone trying to put together an album.

And putting together an album is a lost art these days, as Beyonce lamented on her HBO documentary. Everyone is just trying to score a catchy single and filling their album with…well, filler. If artists of all genres concentrated on creating a cohesive album, one with a theme instead of just a collection of singles, music would be worth buying again.

That also falls on the consumers to demand more from artists, but as long as the consumers want quick and catchy instead of lasting art, then the game will continue to be what it is. Is that because we’ve been fed pretty much the same format for the last 10-plus years?  Possibly. Are listeners responsible for broadening their horizons and demanding more of their favorite artists? Yes.

In the meantime, one can only hope that Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience helps R&B see a clearer, brighter and bigger picture.

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2 thoughts on “Timberlake’s 20/20 Vision could bring R&B back into focus

  1. Good stuff Chris… Listening to it on first thought was this is going to be good for both white and black listeners. The soulful sound is evident. The real question is…. can become to R&B what Marshall Mathers is to Rap?

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