‘20 /20’ a messy masterpiece
Justin Timberlake has enjoyed quite the career. He has seen success pretty much everywhere he’s tried his hand. He’s an accomplished actor and musician who really can’t seem to do anything wrong. His latest release “The 20/20 Experience,” which is only his third album release, is a solid effort. However, it’s not without its pitfalls.
First, the album is simply too long. Of the 10 tracks featured, only one is under five minutes. Even though the songs are all entertaining and engaging, at a certain point each one becomes repetitive. There are even occasions where you just want to hit the skip button to move to the next song because it feels like Timberlake is filibustering from a musical standpoint so that the songs don’t end when they probably should.
As a result of the length, Timberlake’s simplified approach to this R&B album hurts it more than it helps. That’s not to say that the hooks and choruses aren’t wonderful, or that the overall writing is poor. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The writing is decent, but at a certain point in an eight-minute song, hearing the same hooks repeated over and over just feels lazy.
Moreover, Questlove, a collaborator of Timberlake’s, has hinted that there will be a second 20/20 album released later this year, which was confirmed by Timberlake this week. This volume contains 10 songs, as does the potential second volume, for a total of 20 songs. Get it? It’s an interesting concept, but hopefully Timberlake cuts out some of the filler the second go-round.
As far as the musical composition is concerned, this album kills it. If there were no lyrics, the album wouldn’t suffer at all. Of course, Timberlake is not going to release an instrumental, so this is what we’re working with. It’s well-produced, edited and composed. It’s an ambitious, slightly jumbled effort from Timberlake and it could very well garner him numerous awards over the course of this year.
There’s almost no need to mention Timberlake’s vocal performance on this album because we all know the man can sing. However, it feels very much like he’s playing it safe on this one. Nothing stands out the way it did with his previous releases, “Justified” and “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” and that’s a problem. Every album should have a track or two that you just can’t forget. Honestly, there’s nothing like that on this album. At best, “Suit & Tie,” the track released as a teaser for fans until the album came out, is the one you’ll remember, but that’s probably more so because of Jay-Z than Timberlake.
If this review seems confusing, it’s because the album feels that way. There is so much that could have been done better, yet so much that couldn’t. It’s musically compelling, but lyrically lacking. It’s engaging, but repetitive. It’s a masterpiece, but it’s a messy one.
In the end, you should probably get this album, but whether you’re a new Timberlake fan or a die-hard follower, you need to be prepared for something different. That’s exactly what this album is.
Producer hits a home run with ‘Adrift’
It can be difficult to describe the work of a producer without careening sideways into assigning colors and feelings to sounds.
As such, Harry Fraud can be best described as crafting compositions out of the byzantine wisps and curls of smoke pushed from between crimson lips, Cimmerian soundscapes of creeping soul and adept sampling, where saxophones and horns simmer and burn and everything is composed of gunmetal and cigarette smoke blue.
So distinct and uniform is Fraud’s atmospheric tone that one could most likely recognize any number of his compositions. This should not be misconstrued as an accusation of repetitiveness; there is no lack of variety in Fraud’s canon.
It is more like he is an architect, a creator who must permeate all of his creations, so that one gets that Fraud feel in everything from the inky noir of “Shot Caller” to the dangling, rolling paper walrus tusks and DynaTAC cellphone brandished by Action Bronson in the visuals for the smoldering “Bird On A Wire.”
“Adrift” is solid from top to bottom, a feat which becomes near miraculous when one considers it is a 23-track leviathan of a mixtape; the sheer amount of material is nothing new for this kind of releases, but the lack of throw away cuts certainly is.
Which is not to say that same pieces do not rise above others. The synergy that can develop between certain rappers and producers is one of the form’s most miraculous nuances, and there is a joy one feels when two artists can form a symbiotic relationship that behooves them both.
The aforementioned Bronson takes to the opener, “Morey Boogie Boards,” where his pointed Queens flow is juxtaposed by the overcast empty beach vibe Fraud creates; the guttural, rumbling low ends of Ross, Bun B and Slim Thug are slathered on top of epileptic grill igniters and shuffling drums, laying atop slinky horns like comforters on “Cassette Deck” and the ethereal “Wake Up” and indomitable rasp of Trae the Truth complement each other.
Anyone currently immersed in hop-hop has most likely heard an emcee ad-libbing an intro over “la music de Harry Fraud,” and one can understand why when one takes into consideration the considerable boost to the artistic merits he provides such mid-grade rappers as Miller and Montana. It is a short list of producers who can create a distinct sound and not be limited, and “Adrift” seals Fraud’s spot near its top.
Bonnie Raitt strikes again
The “red-haired blueswoman” has struck again; “Slipstream,” her 19th album, won Raitt a much deserved 10th Grammy in 2013.
She has always been musically fearless, but after a several hiatus year, to, as she said, “get back in touch with the other part of my life.” She has come back fiercer than ever. On this recording, she slides effortlessly from blues to reggae to swing to the heartbreak ballad that has long been her signature.
One critic opined that the work is “some of the most surprising and rewarding music of Raitt’s remarkable career,” and credits that to her “experimental sessions” with producer Joe Henry, whom she sought out to help her craft “something out of the ordinary.”
Despite dipping her toe into mainstream with some popular hits, Raitt has never been ordinary. She makes everything she sings her own with her husky voice, a ferocious control of her guitar and her attitude.
Still not convinced? Just ask the Google gods to fire up her rendition of Sippie Wallace’s “Women be Wise.”