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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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Justin Timberlake

The 20/20 Experience |


Let’s get right to it: Does Justin Timberlake’s comeback album live up to the near-impossible expectations? Yes and no. If you are looking for this to be another Justified or FutureSex/LoveSounds, it’s not. While those albums were more about instant-gratification pop, The 20/20 Experience is the more challenging vision of an artist creating a cohesive work rather than a collection of singles. Most songs stretch out for more than seven minutes, taking interesting twists and dissolving into cool codas that wouldn’t make the radio edits. With lush, layered arrangements-producer Timbaland is again behind the boards—topped off by Timberlake’s falsetto-kissed vocals, this is maybe the best sounding album you’ll hear all year. It finds JT delving deeper into R&B: Just check out the Stylistics-style balladry of “Pusher Love Girl,” the Al Green moves of “That Girl” or the “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ “-tinged funk of “Let the Groove Get In.” But he hasn’t gone totally retro, also exploring electronica on headphones-ready tracks like “Tunnel Vision” and the beautifully sung “Blue Ocean Floor” that dip into Radiohead and, more recently, James Blake territory. Declarations like these reveal a newly married man in a state of wedded bliss. This time he’s bringing romance back.

David Bowie The Next Day |


Ten years after his last album, David Bowie is back-and so is his swagger. Forget the moody musings of “Where Are We Now?”-the reflective comeback single that he dropped seemingly out of nowhere on his Jan. 8 birthday. The Next Day, produced by longtime collaborator Tony Visconti, represents much more of an emphatic, energetic return from the 66-year-old. “We’ll never be rid of these stars/But I hope they live forever,” sings Bowie, sounding every bit the immortal rock god on “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” a glittering highlight that is one of many guitar-charged tracks here. You can just imagine Ziggy Stardust getting his groove on to the bouncy beat of “Dancing Out in Space,” while “(You Will) Set the World on Fire” is a rocking, fist-pumping anthem for today’s young Americans. On another standout, “I’d Rather Be High,” the album takes a political turn with Bowie’s antiwar message: “I’d rather be dead or out of my head/ Than training these guns on those men in the sand.” It’s moments like these that make The Next Day a triumphant comeback from a much-missed icon.

Bon Jovi

What About Now |


“I ain’t checking out, I still got my dreams/ Does anybody want what’s left of me?” sings Jon Bon Jovi, his defiance tinged with middle-aged doubt on “What’s Left of Me.” Clearly, the desire for Bon Jovi albums ain’t what it used to be, but the band keeps plugging away on What About Now, showing that they are more than a nostalgia act. Indeed, their latest finds the New Jersey rockers on the upswing after 2009’s The Circle. Highlights include “That’s What the Water Made Me,” a guitar-drenched anthem, and “The Fighter,” a folkie ballad about the everyday warrior that packs a quiet power.