Timberlake's vision '20/20'

Pop's golden boy puts his acting career on hold and returns to music with an eclectic third studio album that draws its inspiration from a bygone era

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE/ THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE

Since the release of his 2006 second album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, the former N'Sync member has decidedly put his musical endeavours on the back burner to establish his presence on the big screen. Alpha Dog, The Social Network, Bad Teacher and Friends With Benefits are some of the better known titles he was involved in. Ever a multi-tasker, Timberlake was also knee-deep in running his own fashion label, producing a reality series for MTV, getting married and being brought in to help resurrect and revamp the failed social media site Myspace.

But even when Timberlake wasn't working on his follow-up album, he still kept his music skills from getting rusty by appearing on fellow artists' singles such as Madonna's 4 Minutes, Duran Duran's Nite Runner and Falling Down, 50 Cent's Ayo Technology, TI's Dead and Gone and Ciara's Love Sex Magic.

By now, everyone should have heard The 20/20 Experience's first single, Suit & Tie, and its follow-up Mirrors. The latter has recently been featured on our ''Playlist'', and we still stand by our verdict that the song is distinctly reminiscent of JT's mega ballad, Cry Me A River. From these two tracks, it doesn't take a music connoisseur to identify which producer is at work here. Timbaland puts a stamp on his production, and, frankly, it's nearly impossible to think of JT's music without associating it with the aforementioned producer. The record also has help from Timbaland's sidekick Jerome ''J-Roc'' Harmon, who has worked with Jay-Z and Chris Brown.

The result is a deftly sequenced collection of highly textured songs that gradually reveals itself throughout the album's total length of 70 minutes (seven out of 10 songs clock in at more than seven minutes and the shortest is close to five). The opener, Pusher Love Girl, features suave strings reminiscent of Prince, whereas Don't Hold the Wall rides on an enchanting loop built on a marimba groove and thumping a bassline (is that crickets chirping we're hearing in the background, JT?).

Elsewhere, there are silly sexual euphemisms (Strawberry Bubblegum), a salsa-inspired moment (Let the Groove Get In) and Memphis soul funk-tastic-ness (That Girl). The album then closes with Blue Ocean Floor, a sentimental number where he masterfully exercises his vocal calisthenics, crooning: ''If my red eyes don't see you any more/And I can't hear you through the white noise/Just send your heartbeat I'll go to the blue ocean floor/Where they find us no more.''

While FutureSex/LoveSounds looks to the future, The 20/20 Experience digs into the past for inspiration. The record may not be packed with potential hits like JT's previous offerings, but it gives a nod to traditional R&B, flirts with various soul styles and still manages to fit in the contemporary context. Together with sound wizard Timbaland, Timberlake has cultivated his own signature sound and further confirmed his artistic flair. This is pop music at its most innovative and sophisticated.

THE PLAYLIST

Wisetniyom/ Hiw

For the uninitiated, psych-rock outfit Wisetniyom are one of the bands that emerged during the ''alter'' era of the local music scene-the same period that gave us alt-rock staple Modern Dog. Two decades later, the band, consisting of Choopol Srivieng, Kungwarn Koonsap and Suprawat Jampian, return with a new single, Hiw. Starting with acoustic guitar, the song then indulges in one of 2012's musical fads that is a dubstep breakdown. It's a radical change from the group and whether fans will like it yet remains to be seen.

Charlotte Church/ Nerve

Primarily known as a classical music prodigy, multi-talented Welsh songstress Charlotte Church surprised everyone last year by going off in an alternative rock direction with a release of her EP One. This year, Church keeps her alt persona going with a new five-track EP called Two which includes Nerve, a track so angst-ridden it will leave her fans scratching their heads. Starting off with quiet drumming, the song builds up until it implodes with stabs of electric guitar licks. The 27-year-old former classical starlet whispers and wails through a vocoder (think Bon Iver rather than Cher), officially leaving her ''Voice of an Angel'' and pop career past behind.

M83/ StarWaves

Who's better to create the soundtrack for the upcoming sci-fi blockbuster, Oblivion (starring none other than Holllywood megastar Tom Cruise), than Anthony Gonzalez of French dreampop outfit M83? Following their excellent sixth studio album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, and extensive touring around the globe, the band is back in the studio, lending their shoegaze expertise to the film. As with previous M83's offerings, StarWaves is a sublime soundscape completed with swoon-worthy synth flourishes and spaced-out melodies. Gorgeous and well-timed, the song perfectly conveys the movie's futuristic mood and tone while at the same time stands on its own as another M83 gem.

Bastille/ Pompeii

London indie act Bastille have come a long way from being a music bloggers' best-kept secret to breaking into the Top 10 in the UK. We previously featured the band's debut single, Flaws, a while back, and since then they have gone on to release a debut album titled Bad Blood. The album's fourth single, Pompeii, features new wave-inspired keyboards and perky drums _ a far cry from the song's doom-and-gloom lyrics: ''And the walls kept tumbling down/In the city that we love/Great clouds roll over the hills/Bringing darkness from above.''

Olly Murs/ Army of Two

Army of Two, the new single by British pop singer Olly Murs is written specially for Murs' fans _ endearingly referred to as ''Murs Army''. Taken from his third studio album, Right Place Right Time, the track is said to have been influenced by Take That and Coldplay, although all we're hearing here is bits and pieces of Robbie Williams and Maroon 5's Adam Levine. ''Soldiers, follow my lead/Repeat after me/Our faith is the bullet, hope is the gun/Love is all we need,'' goes the chorus alongside some rousing military drumming. Top marks for catchiness; zero for originality.

About the author

Writer: Chanun Poomsawai