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Mirrors is the song the world has been wanting from Justin Timberlake since he first announced his comeback a few weeks ago. Though his sepia-tinged performance at the Grammys of new tracks Suit & Tie and Pusher Love Girl was a joy to watch and hear, they aren’t songs to get particularly enthused about. The Motown inspirations and “Rat Pack in Vegas” stylings are very accomplished throwbacks destined to fill the dancefloors of formals and weddings for months to come, but they fall a little flat on their own. Mirrors, though, points to the kind of expansive mid-tempo ballad that found fine expression in Until the End of Time on ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’.
Until the End of Time may not quite reach the emotional depths of the Prince classics it aims for, but the track was still a major development on the saccharine efforts on Timberlake’s first album ‘Justified’ – tracks with lines like “Let’s fly away speeding through the Garden of Eden” or “You’re out of this world except you’re not green”. The feat of making Justin Timberlake sound convincing and mature as well as sweet was the crux of the Until The End of Time, as well as being a good exercise for his producer Timbaland, who managed to discipline his brilliant eccentricities and focus them into a single crystalline statement.
Mirrors also shares similarities with the break-up missives Cry Me a River and What Goes Around… Comes Around with its mix of a beatboxed rhythm and tight string arrangements, but it’s completely geared for an arena-sized, love-conquers-all message: opening with a swelling organ and electric guitar and featuring multi-tracked vocals that sound like a crowd or choir singing behind him. The bridge before the final chorus cresendo – “Yesterday is history/Tomorrow is a mystery” – really captures Timberlake’s satisfyingly huge and suitably vague emotive leaps, and the segue into second half of the track is perfect: breaking all the straining emotion into a slow chant and an easy falsetto, allowing Timbaland the space for some flourishes and flashes to drive the song home.
Speaking about ‘The 20/20 Experience’ in a Rolling Stone Q&A with a couple of high schoolers enrolled in a music industry program, Justin Timberlake revealed that: “the average length of each song is seven, eight minutes […] It’s not so much a narrative or a story, but sonically we really made it to listen from top to bottom”. The belting Mirrors is the clearest example of this ambition so far, and really raises hopes that the new album will be vintage JT – rather than simply vintage.