FutureSex/LoveSounds will always be a slightly weird album for me. It was released when I was 13 and too busy widening my own tastes in music to bother with Justin Timberlake, aside from hearing the undeniably brilliant lead single 'SexyBack' absolutely everywhere at the time, so coming back to it three years after it was released was a strange experience, and listening to it nowadays is like taking a time machine back to 2006. It's funny: only in the last few years have I begun to appreciate pop music in all of its forms, but I never once stopped to think that what was missing from the landscape was some JT. I figured he was too busy with his acting career to return to music, anyway (yeah, along with the rest of the world), but it turns out I was wrong. He's back, and the best thing about The 20/20 Experience is that it reminds us why he took that break from music in the first place.

I certainly would not have liked to have been in his shoes when he needed to produce a follow-up to FS/LS. Before the charts were overrun by soulless dance-pop in debt to David Guetta and the superstar DJs of the world, that album had established itself as forward-thinking pop that was catchy, inventive, and written by people who knew exactly what they were doing. We wouldn't see an album like that permeate the mainstream consciousness again until Kanye West unleashed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in late 2010, and indeed, some parallels can be drawn between West's magnum opus and Timberlake's latest work; MBDTF clocked in at 68 minutes, but JT goes even further, pushing things to ridiculous lengths, 70 minutes in total. For a pop album, especially from someone like Timberlake, that sort of thing is almost uneheard of nowadays.


This is an album that takes its time: immediate and infectious, but needing time if the listener is to understand its many layers. It had a long gestation period, too: instead of rushing out a follow-up to FS/LS, Timberlake turned his attention to other things; even so, his new record was recorded over a month. For an album as layered and nuanced as this, it came together quite quickly. While the weakest song on the album was chosen as lead single, it works much better in album context: 'Suit & Tie' contains a dreadful verse from Jay-Z, but the rest of the song itself works quite well. Maybe Timberlake would have been better off leading with 'Mirrors'; that song strays slightly into cheesy territory, but it's one of the strongest songs on the album nonetheless, sometimes some cheese is exactly what's required. In a similar way, Timberlake, with Timbaland back on production duties, knows exactly what the album needs. With the exception of the exceptionally laid-back 'That Girl'. one of the most chilled moments on the album, and 'Suit & Tie' (five minutes long, chopped down to four for the radio edit), all the songs are around seven or eight minutes long.

Letting the album flow was a wise decision. Timberlake's said that he'll "figure out the radio edits later," but the overwhelming feeling is of an artist comfortable with where the songs are at; with no filler in sight, he's trimmed things down (in a sense) to 10 strong songs which only really need to be cut down for radio play, because when songs like 'Pusher Love Girl' and 'Don't Hold the Wall' get locked into a groove, the effect is electrifying. 10 songs spread over 70 minutes - there's no denying that it could have been a bad move, but it's often that these songs will end up in places completely different than where they started (the coda of 'Mirrors', for example). That this album is even being released at all in its current format is a sign that his label knew exactly what he was up to and were perfectly fine with it. Not a second is wasted, either. The lyrics can mostly be ignored - Timberlake's still preoccupied with love (he married Jessica Biel last year, go figure) - but as far as the music on the new album goes, he's really pushing things forward. 'Strawberry Bubblegum' is a sure-fire candidate for single status, even if its lyrics deal in dodgy metaphors - Timberlake knows his way around a hook, and his voice more than makes up for the album's lyrical shortcomings.

There are times when such things don't even matter, anyway; the glorious closer 'Blue Ocean Floor' carries a hook taken straight out of a post-rock song, a sedate and downright beautiful way to close an album that revels in being able to be everywhere at once. Despite the fact that all the stops have been pulled out in endeavouring to make the album sound as good as possible, it does nothing to obscure the fact that, if all that was stripped away, the songs would hold up just as well. When Timberlake proclaims, "I'm the best" on 'Don't Hold the Wall', it's hard not to believe him, because this album wipes the floor with pretty much all of his competition. It's probably going to end up as the defining pop album of 2013. In many ways, it's bold and experimental, but at its core, it's pure Timberlake. Good to have you back, JT.