Justin Timberlake’s third post-‘N Sync album, The 20/20 Experience, was released last Tuesday and is expected to have a massive first week, with US sales predictions ranging from 950,000 to even 1 million copies. Seven years after the release of his last album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, and eleven years since Justified, the world is clearly ready for some more tunes from JT.
But will people like Justin’s new album and new sound? This is his least radio-friendly album, which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on what you’re looking for. FutureSex/LoveSounds had huge success in both album sales and radio/single sales. It has sold 4.4 million copies in the US alone, with first week sales of 648,000, and produced six singles, three of which reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (“SexyBack”, “My Love”, “What Goes Around… Comes Around”). Some artists have great success with radio, but fail to match their album sales to their single sales. For instance, Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream eventually produced six number 1 singles, though sold only 192,000 copies in its first week. Justin managed to have the best of both worlds with FutureSex/LoveSounds, and though The 20/20 Experience will see a huge debut, it might not have the same lasting power on the radio as FutureSex/LoveSounds. “Suit & Tie” currently sits at number 4 on the Hot 100 chart, while “Mirrors”, the album’s second single, is at number 25 on the chart.
(Think you haven’t heard “Mirrors”? You probably have – it’s the one used for those Target commercials where Justin “surprises” his fans while they sing it…okay, yeah you know what I’m talking about now.)
Out of Justin’s three solo albums, 20/20 is his most experience-based project yet. This is not a ready-for-radio collection of (perhaps random) songs, but a string of ten musical compositions that come together to form a complete album. The album is meant to be listened to as a whole, one song after another, not picked through for radio hits and playlist contributions.
With a mere ten tracks 20/20 clocks in at 70 minutes. An album of ten songs could easily be only 35 minutes if each track was a conventional 3.5 minutes long, but the shortest song on 20/20 is 4 minutes, 48 seconds. Conversely, the longest song lasts for 8 minutes and 6 seconds and all but two of the tracks last longer than 6.5 minutes.
This accounts for one of the reasons why the album is meant to be experienced as a full album and not just a collection of singles. JT experiments with what I like to call the “long form song.” Songs of the Long Form break away from conventional song structures and usually last longer than 6 minutes. By conventional structures, I mean songs that go – verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/chorus — or some slight variation on that. Of course, not all songs which are longer than 6 minutes and/or break away from conventional song structures are Long Form Songs. Taylor Swift’s “Dear John” clocks in at 6 minutes, 46 seconds, though it follows a conventional structure and the main reason for its length is the slow tempo. The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside” does not follow a conventional song structure, as the lyrics are one long block of text that simply repeats itself, but at 3 minutes, 43 seconds, it is clearly not of the Long Song form. Of 20/20’s ten tracks, eight are of the Long Song Form. The only songs that I consider to be regular are “Suit & Tie” and “That Girl”, both of which follow a conventional song structure and are of the appropriate length.
JT is inherently rooted in pop and on The 20/20 Experience he expands his pop sound in a more subtle, soul-infused direction. For FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin expanded his pop sound into hip-hop territory, with guest spots by T.I. (“My Love”), will.i.am (“Damn Girl”), and Three-6-Mafia (“Chop Me Up”). Justin’s new sound is perhaps more evolved, but does not allow for the hooks that instantly grab your attention or catchy choruses that can be sung by heart, which we loved on Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds. On The 20/20 Experience, Justin weaves layers of melody into his songs and lets each track develop more organically. The great thing about the Long Form Songs is that they each take on a life of their own throughout the song. Most Long Form Songs contain a noticeable shift that occurs in the middle of the song and changes the song’s vibe just enough to refresh it, but not enough to turn it into something completely different.
With “Pusher Love Girl”, the shift occurs at the 4:45 mark when it sounds like the song could end, but instead it continues with a brief musical interlude that morphs into a harder, more literal version of the original verses’ metaphors, while still incorporating the soft riffs that were heard earlier in the song.
“Don’t Hold The Wall” has a noticeable shift that occurs at the 4:20 mark when a new beat interrupts the smooth, dreamy sound that had been lingering and flips the rest of the song into a vamped-up version of itself.
“Let The Groove In” is a LFS, though it does not contain a shift like most of the other songs. This song is structured around the repetition of two phrases – “Are you comfortable, right there right there/Let the groove get in, feel it right there” – which are interspersed with three lyrical stanzas throughout the song.
“Suit & Tie” is the most outright catchy track on the album, and with a guest verse from Jay-Z, works well for radio. The first time I heard it I thought it was really mellow, and compared to the bang of “SexyBack” as FutureSex/LoveSound‘s first single, it is mellow. But like the other songs on the album, after a few listens the intricacies emerged and it seemed much more upbeat than it did at first. I also love when JT harmonizes with Jay-Z towards the end of the rap verse. It’s not often that a rap/sung song includes harmonies and hearing it was refreshing.
On this album, JT uses subtle soulfulness to emphasize the lyrics and melodies. Each song is formed by elements that build on one another, and the meaning and tone do not become apparent until the song has finished. The melodies are layered into the songs, giving them a deeper dimension than many of his previous songs. Of course, this means that the insta-recognition that came with his previous songs is gone. This album contains no opening lines like “Ain’t another woman that could take your spot my—” or clear-as-day opening riffs like on “What Comes Around… Goes Around” that instantly connected you to the song and were excellent for radio. Instead, JT presents us with and album that’s meant to be listened to in its entirety. He makes you pay attention, which in tern makes you appreciate the music.
Things to consider:
- Irish author Marian Keyes has a new novel called The Mystery Of Mercy Close coming out on April 9th! Read more about it here.
- Apparently the opening theme for 2 Broke Girls is a real song…who knew! It’s called “Second Chance” and it’s by Peter Bjorn and John. Listen here and if you watch the show, you’ll definitely recognize it!
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