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With "The 20/20 Experience," Justin Timberlake has made a work that is a complete anathema in Pop World 2013: an album that is meant to be listened to from start to finish.
As a whole, “The 20/20 Experience,” out March 19, is a deeply retro effort that pays homage to Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Frank Sinatra in both music and sentiment. However, Timberlake and producer Timbaland don’t get stuck in the past and, as much as the album is influenced by musical icons of yore, it is determined to look to the future as well.
If Timberlake is feeling the hot breath of newer, fresher artists like Bruno Mars —his most obvious heir apparent— or Frank Ocean breathing down his neck, he doesn’t show it. Quite the opposite: Timberlake infuses “The 20/20 Experience” with a disarming, radiant confidence that occasionally surpasses the material. He’s a one-man charm offensive and an electrifying performer, as his most recent stint on “Saturday Night Live” showed.
At its best, “The 20/20 Experience” feels like its own invention: an exploration into what it means to take the traditional confines of pop and then see how far those boundaries can be pushed. It’s not a new idea for Timberlake: on 2006’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” he and Timbaland set about deconstructing pop, only to construct a new monster, filled with shape-shifting songs and musical interludes. To keep with that theme, at its worst, “The 20/20 Experience” feel like sets of unfinished lab experiments stretched far too thin. Every one of the 10 tunes here creeps up to or surpasses the seven-minute mark, often to their own detriment.
The album opens with “Pusher Love Girl,” a sultry, slinky stunner that finds Timberlake breaking out his clarion clear falsetto early. Over hand claps and horns, he pays homage to the female that means more to him than any drug. She’s his “hydroponic jelly bean.” Is there anyone else on God’s green earth that could pull off calling someone that? Like many of the songs on “20/20,” about five minutes in, “Pusher Love Girl” morphs into a swirling interlude as he chants, “I’m just a junkie, a junkie for your love.”
Other highlights include first single, the mood-setting, Jay-Z-starring “Suit & Tie"; and the delicious “Strawberry Bubblegum,” a Prince-inspired pop confection laced with plenty of innuendo. He’ll be your blueberry lollipop, baby, and he’s going to love you till “we make it pop." Current single, “Mirrors," is a pop marvel, and, as he’s shown by his television performances with his band, JT and the Tennessee Kids, it only gets better as it is performed live. The gorgeous melody features layer upon layer of Timberlake’s vocals stacked upon each other until it feels like they can reach the heavens.
“Mirrors,” and possibly every song on here, is an ode to Timberlake’s wife, Jessica Biel. The album is a veritable love letter to her, but an honest one: one that combines carnal urges with the fears and tribulations of what it means to be a man in a serious, committed relationship. On the soulful slow jam “Spaceship Coupe,” he’s ready to get his groove on in their “space lover cocoon” as they trip the galactic light fantastic. On the horn-drenched, old-style “That Girl,” introduced by an emcee as if he and his band are playing in a club in the ‘60s, Timberlake sells every note of devotion. The album closes with the underwater, dreamy, sound-effect laden kaleidoscope of “Blue Ocean Floor,” which sounds like something from Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange.” The song is a druggy, slo-mo, strange slice.
While there are some gems on “The 20/20 Experience,” the listeners’ reactions will depend largely on how big a journey they are willing to take. Too often, Timberlake--and Timbaland-- forego any semblance of a hook or a catchy chorus (in fact there’s nary one to be found on the album) for experimental sonic landscapes. They confuse repetition with creating an actual song. On “Let the Groove Get In,” which will make an incredible dance remix, the African and Latin rhythms enchant and captivate, but they never go anywhere or actually do anything.
It’s a trippy record and a daring one, but very few of the songs deserve the over-extended treatment they receive. Most of the tunes would have greatly benefitted from some trimming, even if that meant delivering a 40-minute album instead of a 70-minute one.
The consistent thread is, of course, Timberlake’s self-assured vocals. Whether he’s singing in falsetto or in a lower register or rapping or vocalizing non-sensical words, his delivery sounds never less than inspired. In a way that few contemporary artists have, Timberlake has a clear command of what works for him and he’s a thrilling vocalist. But in hindsight, “The 20/20 Experience” could have used a little more focus.
AUSTIN -- The Christmas film "When Angels Sing" boasts Willie Nelson as Santa Claus; Lyle Lovett as a holiday-happy neighbor to Harry Connick, Jr.'s Scrooge, due to his unhappy Christmas past; and Kris Kristofferson as his dad, and his heart if full of the season's joy.
So, of course, the soundtrack is X-mas excellence.
The film -- shot in Austin and premiered at South By Southwest -- is as family-friendly as they come, with Connick's usual charm and easiness oozing from in between the green and red trim. The trademark seems to be Hallmark, though the film has yet to get picked up. The music won't hurt its chances: Family singalongs, a stumble into a church, caroling and a gander through Austin's hot spots (including Salt Lick, nom) provide ample opportunities for originals and Christmas classics.
Lovett has an extended acoustic jam with Kat Edmonson and Nelson gets a solo on "Amazing Grace." Connick refrains from singing in the film until a duet with Nelson on the closing credits. I especially loved the cameos from the Trishas and from Dale Watson, who give this film a particular Austin glaze that could help sell music, if not the film itself.
"Kris and Harry are great," Nelson told me of his co-stars and collaborators before the premiere. "I like good writers, good singers and good people. They don’t get any better than those guys."
A review of last night's "The Office" coming up just as soon as this blog spins off into one about Myles McNutt...
"Banshee," the Cinemax crime drama that wraps up its first season tonight at 10, is among the dumbest, most ridiculous, lurid, disgusting shows on all of television.
That is also an enormous part of its charm.
By any measure, Christopher Doyle is one of the greatest cinematographers in the business, a painter of light whose career will always be defined by his woozily gorgeous collaborations with Wong Kar-wai ("In the Mood for Love," "2046"), but who has also done remarkable work for such auteurs as Zhang Yimou ("Hero"), Gus van Sant ("Paranoid Park") and Jim Jarmusch ("The Limits of Control").
But while the Australian-born artist has been showered awards by everyone from US critics' groups to the Cannes Film Festival, he has never been nominated by the Academy's cinematographers' branch. And that looks unlikely to change after Doyle's candid, foul-mouthed tirade against the Academy in a recent interview, in which he makes no bones about what he thinks of Claudia Miranda's recent Oscar win for "Life of Pi": "It's a f--king insult to cinematography."
A bit of a bombshell on the cineaste set recently when Steven Spielberg announced plans to transform Stanley Kubrick's massive, unfilmed Napoleon biopic into a television miniseries. Last week, Hollywood Reporter film critic Todd McCarthy humbly suggested seven filmmakers to take up the reins on the project, should Spielberg opt out of directing it himself.
The names McCarthy suggested weren't in and of themselves bad ideas: David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and Peter Weir. No one is going to argue that each and every one of them is talented and up to the challenge. But there was an overly wish-listy quality to the list, not all that reasonable, really.
Not only that, those are some disparate voices that probably wouldn't work in a single boat. A miniseries like this, if farmed out to other talent and not placed on one filmmaker's shoulders, would obviously need to find an organic rhythm across a spectrum of voices.
AUSTIN - Harmony Korine has been a provocateur since the start of his film career, and his new film "Spring Breakers" may be the single most controlled and subversive thing he's made so far. Hypnotic and garish, the film feels like it was assembled from terrible music videos, irritating internet memes, and the worst impulses of a generation of kids raised on gangster culture. It's going to be interesting to see how this one lands, because I think some people will judge it by its surface, while other people will engage with what feels like a deliberate piece of deconstructionist art.
Even the casting of the movie seems to be an attempt to play off the relationship people have with pop culture. Selena Gomez stars as Faith, and there's no way her background as a Disney Channel star was not part of Korine's thought process. Faith is the one good girl in the group, and at the start of the film, we see the things that all of the girls do for release. For Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine), that's drinking and smoking pot and dancing, and for Faith, that's church group and prayer. The four of them are all broke, frustrated that they can't go to spring break in Florida with everyone else, and Faith in particular is dying to get out of their small town, to see the world for the first time.
The "Veronica Mars" movie Kickstarter campaign was an instant, runaway success, raising the $2 million minimum to make the movie in under 12 hours, with the total continuing to climb. (It passed $3 million earlier this evening.) But the process to get to this point took much longer for the show's creator, Rob Thomas. He had all but given up on getting a "Veronica" movie made, even cheaply — "Warner Bros. is typically in the business of making big-budget movies," he explains. "'Small' for them is a $30 million movie, and I understand why the 'Veronica Mars' movie didn't fit into that paradigm" — until his friend, Cotton Mather lead singer Robert Harrison, suggested he try Kickstarter.
When last we saw "The Vampire Diaries" (and man, that seemed so long ago, didn't it?), Elena had lost her brother, burned down her house, and stopped feeling anything (thanks to Damon turning off her emotional switch). Oh, and Catherine stole the vampire cure right out from under everyone's noses, but we can get to that later. The focus of this episode is really on Elena becoming, well, a petulant teenager who doesn't care about anyone or anything. Even better? This forces Damon and Stefan (with, to an extent, Caroline) to play the parts of her worried and often powerless parents. It's not the sexiest of triangles (or, really, sexy at all), but it's definitely interesting. I'm not sure this is an improvement, but it's a nice change of pace to see Elena behave like something other than a sad-eyed velvet painting come to life.
Following “Now,” the first single from its self-titled fourth album, Paramore has premiered a new tune, “Still Into You.”
[More after the jump...]
A quick review of tonight's "Community" coming up just as soon as I workshop a blackface Senor Wences bit...