Justin Timberlake‘s The 20/20 Experience was a rare thing in the pop world of 2013: an experimental blockbuster. Other artists roar like lions and bang like gorillas to get our attention. Having spent years proving himself a full-spectrum superstar in Hollywood and on Saturday Night Live, JT glided back to music with a 70-minute-plus LP of adventurous, stretched-out neosoul vamps he compared to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
Skeptics might consider Timberlake’s releasing another 70-minute album (cut during the same sessions as Part One) only months later a bit indulgent. But, hey, get a load of those indulgences: “Only When I Walk Away” opens with a grinding acid-funk riff that leads into a woozy, mordant dressing down of a no-good woman, then detours into sticky-icky dub reggae that could’ve been cooked up in Lee Perry’s laboratory; “True Blood” is nine minutes of 4/4 throb and bhangra strings and percussion, with JT dropping into slithering Princely sex patter.
Even if this stuff is willful, it’s dazzling, too. Producer Timbaland bends his trademark skittering beats into kinky Play-Doh shapes that sprawl in every direction and still feel liquid, and Drake and Jay Z break things up with great guest spots. Timberlake is as athletic and versatile as you’d expect, whether on the extravagant Off the Wall-style disco workout “Take Back the Night” or the “hey, if Lady Gaga can do it . . .” honky-tonk roof-raiser “Drink You Away.” Undoubtedly, his laser show would kick Usher’s laser show’s ass any day of the week.