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FILE - This Jan. 27, 2013 file photo shows actor-singer Justin Timberlake at the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The Recording Academy announced Wednesday, Jan. 30, that the pop star will perform at the awards show on Feb. 10. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP) Purchase photo reprints »
The 20/20 Experience
RCA Records; $7
Boy did he test our patience. But boy, is he rewarding us for the wait.
After seven years, Justin Timberlake has finally released his third album, “The 20/20 Experience,” and it’s a brilliant piece of work that plays like a musical movement. The 10 tracks (which average seven minutes) weave into one another beautifully as his falsetto glides over each beat. It’s an unconventional adventure that makes your bones groove. Seriously.
It’s hard to think of another performer who can make a seven-minute track continuously engaging and refreshing, especially at a time when a five-minute song screams “problem” for radio stations and our attention span gets shorter with every tweet or text. One of the standouts of the album is the eight-minute event called “Strawberry Bubblegum.” It’s smooth, airy and full of sexual innuendoes, and it transitions into something that’s heaven-like.
Timberlake was flying high off 2006’s multiplatinum, Grammy-winning “FutureSex/LoveSounds” when he essentially walked away from music to act. In the interim, he made one very good movie (the Oscar-winning “Social Network”) and several so-so ones, and almost seemed like another cast member on “Saturday Night Live” with all his appearances on the show.
But despite all his attempts to put music on the sidelines, the question everyone always had for him was, “When is that new album coming out?”
Maybe the former ‘N Sync leader was stalling because of the monumental success that album triggered and the kind of pressure that places on a performer.
That burden may also be the reason why “20/20” echoes much of “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” one of the last decade’s best albums. When “Spaceship Coupe” comes on, you’ll think of “Until the End of Time,” and “Let the Groove In” feels like “Sexy Ladies/Let Me Talk to You (Prelude).” Like “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” “20/20” features producer Timbaland’s deft hand at the center of it all.
In some ways, it almost plays like a musical sequel, and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, not quite.
Timberlake loses some points for the lack of creativity. Yes, “20/20” is near perfect, but it’s almost like he’s plagiarizing some of his own essay, and that’s slightly unfortunate. The album mirrors the futuristic R&B-esque vibe that helped Timberlake leap to the top of the musical ladder — only it’s not so futuristic anymore.
But it’s still vital music that rises above the R&B pack. “That Girl” starts off with old-school appeal, but dabbles into contemporary R&B with a swagger that’s also evident on “Mirror.” You can’t do anything but move your shoulders to “Don’t Hold the Wall” and “Pusher Love Girl” kicks off the album with the right energy. Even “Suit and Tie,” the solid yet a tad underwhelming first single, fits in nicely here.
These days, it’s hard for any star to follow-up a massively successful album, and the challenge gets even steeper when a years-absence is added to the equation. But with a great album on his side, Timberlake should find his return to the top a smooth ride.
Same Trailer Different Park
Mercury Nashville, $8.99
It’s a long way from nowhere Texas to the bright lights of Nashville, Tenn. Well, country music can thank Kacey Musgraves for finding her way, through smart lyrics, arrangements free of bluster and a tone that’s all her own on her debut major label release, “Same Trailer Different Park.”
You don’t have to like country music to love Musgraves’ sound. It’s light and folksy with glint of Nashville tinsel. And her lyrics, delivered without too many tricks of the trade, easily win over the ear. “Blowin’ Smoke” and “Step off” have a salty swagger, but mostly we get a seasoned Musgraves here, as on “Silver Lining,” polished as she sings of personal bravery in an uncertain world.
I like my country stars with a few emotional scars and Musgraves sounds like she knows something about that. Taylor Swift’s cross-over country sound is musical dessert, but this is a real meal.
RainWater Recordings/Thirty Tigers; $7.99
Six years is a long time to build up anticipation.
That’s how long it’s been since Alice Smith released her sultry, soulful 2007 debut, “For Lovers, Dreamers & Me.” With that album, the singer-songwriter was tagged with that coveted “next big thing” title. And then ... silence.
She went through the label maze, had a child, performed here and there, but “She” is her first collection of music since that promising first album.
With her sophomore album, Smith shows the promise is still there. Vocally, Smith is still a powerhouse who vacillates between smoldering and soaring; lyrically, she can still craft ear-catching couplets, like on “The One.”
The Invisible Way
Sub Pop; $9.99
The husband-and-wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker form the core of the Duluth, Minn.-based group Low. Their latest studio album, “The Invisible Way,” is a glorious culmination of 20 years spent honing a slow-tempo, melodious sound with arresting male-female harmonies and cerebral lyrics.
Produced by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and engineer/producer Tom Schick, the album’s overall sonority is an almost mesmerizing union of sparse and lush.
Lugubrious and wistful, Low’s music may come across as too melancholic for some.
But while plumbing the infinite store of human sadness and broken-heartedness, Low does so with a poetry so rare in popular music, it’s exhilarating.
The album begins with “Plastic Cup,” a haunting, exceptional tune that references the affliction of substance abuse, replete with both irony and mourning.
“Just Make it Stop,” sung by Parker, is absolutely gorgeous songwriting and the record’s standout. It’s gut-twistingly beautiful.
Listeners please note: There is beauty and soulful enrichment in melancholy. Take it in.
Weathermaker Music, $10
Clutch, the hard-touring Maryland band with an endless supply of guitar riffs, is back on the righteous path of heavy rock after an ill-advised foray into bluesy territory. Singer Neil Fallon’s growl is ho-hum when it croons over a Hammond B3. But it sounds just right when he’s howling at the moon, as on the new demented party anthem, “The Wolf Man Kindly Requests ...”
“Earth Rocker” is Clutch’s hardest-hitting album in a while, and it’s full of Fallon’s occasionally inscrutable, fantastical sci-fi themes. There are references to Guttenberg, the Large Hadron Collider and the medieval weapon the halberd — and that’s just in one song (“Unto the Breach”).
“The Face” imagines a post-apocalyptic pop culture landscape where rock is dead and electric guitars have been cast into the sea. On “Cyborg Bette,” our rock-star narrator falls for a robot, his “latest model.” A welcome return to form.
Rough Trade, $13.99
There were lots of whispers and mumbles about Palma Violets before the release of its debut album ‘180’ in home country Great Britain, and quite rightly so.
The quartet really is bringing something fresh to a somewhat stale chart with growling guitars and pounding drums, and there isn’t anything quite like it kicking around at the moment.
The album’s opening track “Best of Friends” allows elements to slowly build, first with a carefully plucked chord set, then the pound of a drum, topped off with howling vocals. Lyrics are simplistic. “I wanna be your best friend,” yowl singers Chilli Jesson and Sam Fryer, who have been dubbed 2013’s answer to Carl Barat and Pete Doherty of The Libertines.
Highlights of the album include “We Found Love,” again showcasing the simplistic yet optimistic lyrics, and “Three Stars,” which brings a calmer moment to the otherwise raucous record.