Premature evaluations are not something I generally subscribe to. More often than not, I will love a track on first listen and grow to despise it or vice versa, loathing a song for the first n spins only to come around after airplay and other contextual factors drill its overlooked brilliance into me. Evaluating something at first blush is a dangerous enterprise as the best, most complex things need time for their intricacies to be made apparent. On the other hand, there are instances where my first take on a song is the one that I stick with for a long time to come. ‘Mirrors’ might be one such song. And the one adjective evaluation of the second song to come from the suddenly ubiquitous Justin Timberlake’s forthcoming ‘The 20/20 Experience’? Boring. It pains me to say it after the long and treacherous seven year wait since ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ but this track might be worse still than ‘Suit & Tie‘ for the fact that it so desperately attempts to ape the JT that we grew to know and love in the early noughties and so obviously falls short in these efforts. This sounds something like what ‘‘ might sound like if you beat the shit out of it and then chained it up to a chair and made it watch Justin Bieber become the go-to Justin. Half-baked at best.
But before the fans set about defending their man to the death, know this: I am a Justin Timberlake fan too. I don’t feel bad about offering up a rapid evaluation of this track because, in the aftermath of his saturation levels during the telecast of The Grammys on Sunday (so much so that it might as well have been renamed ‘The JT Show’), it’s pretty clear that Justin Timberlake is wasting no time in reestablishing himself as the pop icon he recently was. Timberlake’s willingness to flog his Jay-Z assisted single to Target and Bud Light etc. makes me feel slightly better about considering this track only 20 minutes after I first heard it. Justin is after the ear of the everyday music consumer. He’s got mine. But what I hear on ‘Mirrors’ gives me real reason to pause. The climb from verse to chorus is clearly Justin Timberlake. The beatboxed beat is clearly Timbaland (so devastatingly clear that I played ‘Mirrors’ and ‘Cry Me A River’ over each other by accident and couldn’t tell I was listening to two tracks for a moment). The two have collaborated to make hits on hits in the not too distant past. This is just so much flatter than any of that. The guitar intro falling off into the percussion/beatboxed verse gave me false hope in so faithfully reproducing the Timberlake/land sound of yesteryear. It’s just that the powerful, memorable chorus, the vocal trickery, any hint of passion seems to be missing. For once, Timbaland’s beat outstrips Timberlake for impact. And that, I imagine, was never the intent.
That’s all to say nothing of the length of the track. At an indulgent 8 minutes long, ‘Mirrors’ is reminiscent of those double-pairings that characterised ‘FutureSex’, most notably ‘Love Stoned/I Think She Knows’ and ‘‘. Those tracks worked at those lengths because the symbiosis of two strong parts made for a stronger whole. Here, as handclaps announce the end of the first part and the beginning of the second, pared-down section, I’m left thankful that something fresh has come to wipe the taste of bad Ne-Yo soul from my mouth. There is nothing that particularly differentiates the first 4 minutes of this song (bar telltale Timbo production) from that R&B artist or even from Public Enemy No 1 (Chris Brown). The phrasing on the verses is really quite promising but the chorus is hard to look past as Justin wails, with no discernible tonal variety, in the general direction of his better half. The latter part of the song, especially around the 6′ mark has some redeeming quality as JT demonstrates how he outshines his contemporaries with some impressive falsetto crooning. This is a case of too little, too late. There is scope for Timberlake to release ballads – he’s done so before to – but labeling something ‘midtempo’ and faffing about for 4 minutes is no way to win hearts. He has our minds; the battle continues in earnest.
Justin Timberlake – Mirrors