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Mirrors

by Justin Timberlake

Once my inner schoolboy had stopped snickering at this tune’s undeniably flatulent kick sound, I found myself increasingly annoyed by this track. On a general level, it feels like the Timberlake/Timbaland team have now been mining a very similar vein with diminishing musical returns for more than a decade, starting with the admittedly splendid ‘Cry Me A River’ on Justified, progressing to the paler derivative of ‘What Goes Around’ on FutureSex/LoveSounds, and ending up with a threadbare patchwork of the two on this latest single from new album The 20/20 Experience: it’s no use stapling the beatbox sounds of the former to the smooth strings of the latter if the songwriting and vocal arrangements are nowhere near as ear-catching. That said, the sales performance of each of these songs appears to have gone from strength to strength, so we should probably resign ourselves to further milking of this particular cash cow on album number four…

On a more specific level, though, what a waste of live strings! Having presumably blown an entire indie record’s budget hiring a full string section, Bill Putnam’s former studio and the arranger who graced Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock With You’, I’d have hoped for something more than a succession of bland block chords and a handful of rather four-square melodic snippets during the middle section (“yesterday is history…"). Honestly, I’d expect any jobbing multimedia composer to coax something like that out of a sample-based virtual instrument within three quarters of an hour. I’m not a tremendous fan of the way the strings are mixed, either. The already fairly restrained HF string tone is masked so heavily by other parts that there’s little to differentiate it from that of a simple synth pad 95 percent of the time. But even on those occasions where the string character really becomes discernable enough to attract attention (for example, during the middle section at 3:20-3:42 in the full-length version), the orchestra is so low in level compared with the beatboxed percussion, claps, breathy backing vocals and clean electric guitars that it sounds a million miles away, as well as rather diddy overall. A bit of a shot in the foot if the Timb-twins were hoping their big spend would borrow them some classical grandeur.