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Justin Timberlake's new album rooted in Chris Cornell's 'Scream'?

March 27, 2013|By Randall Roberts
  • Musician Chris Cornell performs during a concert at the Columbia Club in Berlin in February 2009.
Musician Chris Cornell performs during a concert at the Columbia Club in… (EPA / Britta Pedersen )

One of the key traits of Justin Timberlake’s new “The 20/20 Project” is its length. The majority of its songs run longer than seven minutes, adding both volume and density. Produced by Timbaland with his longtime collaborator Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon, the record’s big, bold songs suggest a nod to prog-rock epic-ness. It’s a notion that was confirmed during a recent conversation with Harmon, who has worked with Timbaland for nearly a decade, first as a keyboardist and now as one of his key co-producers.

An early project that Harmon and Timbaland collaborated on was the much-discussed 2009 Chris Cornell solo album “Scream.”  To call the record from the lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave "a departure" would be understated. The wailing arena-rock singer, looking for a change in direction, worked with Timbaland and Harmon to create a strange rock/R&B/pop hybrid record – and many critics and fans hated it. Even Trent Reznor chimed in, tweeting,  “You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly YOU feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell's record? Jesus.”

Harmon, however, says the Cornell record helped set the direction for “The 20/20 Experience,” and he's hoping for a measure of vindication.

REVIEW: Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience"

“That’s where it started — connected everything together,” says Harmon, adding that while in the studio working on Timberlake’s album, he and Timbaland discussed “Scream,” and hoped people would note the similarities. “That’s exactly what we predicted, that the people who didn’t get the Chris Cornell project would see the connection. We went over some of the mistakes that we did and corrected them. We just had to make sure we had the next project perfected.”

He cites album rock of the 1970s – specifically the Eagles and Pink Floyd – as an influence on both projects, and '70s and '80s funk as another. "When you got Prince's ‘LoveSexy,’ you couldn’t skip through it. You had to listen to the whole thing. 'Dark Side of the Moon,' the same thing.”  

Harmon, of course, is proud of the sales numbers that “The 20/20 Experience” has earned. In its first week, the record sold 968,000 copies, a number that he says confirms that the long songs haven’t hurt the bottom line. “It’s working so far,” he says, adding that radio programmers will have to adapt to the longer music. “They’ll have to adjust,” he says. “We wanted to make a CD that you could work out to and you didn’t have to skip anything.”

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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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