Album review: Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience (RCA)

Album of the Week: Timberlake's back in the groove with some top tunes

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The Independent Culture

In recent years, Justin Timberlake has been more involved with secondary activities – establishing a film presence, running the fashion label William Rast, exec-producing MTV reality series The Phone, developing an eco-friendly golf course, helping revamp MySpace, and getting married – than he has with his core business as a pop star. So it's perhaps no surprise that The 20/20 Experience should be less a game-changing experience than a diversely enjoyable array of contemporary dance-pop strategies.

There's nothing too innovative about Timbaland's production, but it's probably as reliable a set of grooves as R&B will spawn this year, custom-tailored to carry the singer's gentle falsetto.

The results offer an elegant updating of various Seventies modes. There's the floaty, Curtis Mayfield feel of the single “Suit & Tie”, a key download armament in this January's relaunch of MySpace; there's the Bee Gee-esque tone of the bubble-bath-soul croon “Strawberry Bubblegum”, which shifts gear five minutes in to an electric piano groove reminiscent of Gil Scott-Heron; and there's the stratospheric Chi-Lites stylings of the hokey “Spaceship Coupe”, with his falsetto wrapped in strings and ecstatic, cooing female backing vocals.

The Memphis soul of “That Girl” is less successful – the flicky guitar riff is too light, and the horns sound thin and squashed, though the subtle acappella bass vocal is a neat touch – while “Let the Groove Get In” offers the album's most infectious rhythm, the beat pushed along by a “Soul Makossa”-style percussive roll.

Another frisky success is “Don't Hold the Wall”, an invitation to the dance built around a marimba groove with chirping crickets, darbuka beat and deep synth bass, with Timberlake's interleaved vocal lines adding to the subtly designed rhythm bed.

Indeed, there's no notable weakness about the album, though I could have done without the pomp-rock intro to “Mirrors”, a comeback song presumably paying tribute to his actress wife Jessica Biel. “I'm looking right at the other half of me,” he sings, “It's like you're my mirror, staring back at me”. Sweet!

Download: Let the Groove Get In; Don't Hold the Wall; Strawberry Bubblegum; Suit & Tie