Whatever the reasons for and results of his seven-year musical hiatus, Justin Timberlake’s return is an exultant record that delivers on the promise of previous work. Timberlake’s sweltering upper-register crooning sounds saccharine and effortless as ever here. He and longtime collaborator/producer Timbaland treat us to a batch of songs almost exclusively focused on sweet lovin’ and all the cheesy metaphors that can engender. If there’s a hint of frustration at this long-awaited output, it’s only because we get little in the way of risk-taking or lyrical ingenuity. As much as this work matters for Timberlake, the would-be heir to Michael Jackson’s currently empty throne, Timbaland gets much of the credit for the album’s undeniable strength. The 20/20 Experience’s best songs are the Jay-Z-blessed first single “Suit & Tie,” the cinematic and soulful opener “Pusher Love Girl,” the smooth guitar-grooving throwback “That Girl,” and the suggestive Deluxe Edition extra “Dress On.” With the exception of a few moments, these songs soar mostly because of the endlessly addictive production by Timbaland and associate Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon. Don’t get me wrong — 20/20 is a very good album, but I’m sure I can’t be the only one hoping the man’s already-rumored follow-up pushes Justin Timberlake, the creator, a bit further out of the comfort zone ruled by JT, the persona.
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