Superstars have a lot of responsibility. Things they produce need to be bigger and better than what they did before. The best of the best thrive under that pressure, but some can’t properly deal with those expectations — D’Angelo and Dave Chappelle still haven’t come out of hiding.
It seemed as if there was nothing left for Justin Timberlake to do after he released his superlative sophomore album FutureSex/LoveSounds. His success in music almost legitimized his ventures away from it. With his return to music six years later, though, the high expectations still exist. So how does Timberlake deal with the hope that The 20/20 Experience would manage to change the world? By bringing us all back down to Earth with an album rooted in doo-wop and old soul. It’s not entirely innovative, but it’s very well executed.
From the album’s opener, “Pusher Love Girl,” to the groovy “That Girl,” Timberlake glides effortlessly over guitar stabs and brass and string sections. There are a few nods to the contemporary pop of his first two albums to balance the traditional with the modern, but the older influences really shine through. As safe as this direction may appear, the album makes for an unbelievably pleasant listen. Coupled with the fact that the songwriting seems entirely inspired by his recent marriage, the album works as the perfect Sunday afternoon soundtrack, and that’s nothing to complain about.
The 20/20 Experience doesn’t reveal the future of pop music, and it likely will not define Timberlake’s career. It instead marks a shift in persona from Justin the showstopper to the elder statesman of sorts, re-establishing his prowess in the music world by simply reappearing in it. He really did nothing wrong this time around, and much of it is done very well, but one can only hope that the next project is significant for more reasons than just it being by Justin Timberlake.