21. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
Release date: March 15 Highlights: "Pusher Love Girl," "Mirrors"
A polished product from start to finish, this Timbaland/JT collab is not just impressive because it's good—that much was expected, given the parties involved. The 20/20 Experience stood out because of what two princes of pop music chose to do with it. The album moves like a piece of classical music, songs stretching to 7 and 8 minutes as JT's falsetto navigates progressions retired by Stevie Wonder, unearthed by Frank Ocean, and dusted off here by the former Mouseketeer.
The centerpieces stand out, even upon first listen. "Pusher Love Girl" and "Don't Hold The Wall" lead a platoon of songs that exist both as contemporary pop music and a history lesson in its roots. The singles—bobble-headed "Suit and Tie" and eternal-love "Mirrors"—are worthy in their own right, but Timberlake has taken the risk of asking us to be patient and remember. The ghosts of soul, doo-wop, jazz, samba, and even a strain or two of *NSYNC play a part in the Experience.
Timberlake's return to music included a stint as the "house band" for Jimmy Fallon, a guest verse from Jay-Z and a music video directed by David Fincher. He has retaken a seat left empty for him since a well-founded hankering for acting drew JT away in 2007. But he got itchy, apparently, and we have been gifted the first half of a symphony. The second half of The 20/20 Experience drops September 30. Given the fact that this first go was recorded in one month, I like our chances of success the second time around now that he's had five of them.—Graham Corrigan