Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2(RCA) Buy it from Insound
Maybe it’s just me, but after two smash hit singles, a massive hit of a comeback album, frequently appearing in commercials, guest-appearing in a mediocre Jay Z song, and a VMA performance/tribute that made the man appear as a God amongst mere mortals, I began to think that maybe we’ve had enough Timberlake for one year. Not to say that it hasn’t been a pretty good ride. The 20/20 Experience, for all its excesses, is still one of the sharpest and most dazzling pop records in recent memory, and though I’d love to go a day without hearing one of them, Suit & Tie and Mirrors are still pretty great singles. And yes, I’ll admit I was hit with a few nostalgic warm fuzzies watching JT reunite with n*Sync for all of two minutes. It seemed like JT had nothing left to accomplish – no stone needed to be turned over – and I, and I assume everyone else – was perfectly fine with that.
But what’s this? Another Justin Timberlake record already? The second piece of the puzzle nobody even knew was missing? I don’t really see what more you had to prove this year, JT, but I’ll bite. The 20/20 Experience, after all, is still pretty great, and seeing as how these were all recorded in the same session, it’s just more of a good thing, right? Well, I can see why he held these songs back for a while. Though there are a few catchy moments, The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 feels less like a continuation of a great thing and more of a collection of mediocre B-sides that nobody really needed in the first place, making this collection a much more forgettable experience.
To understand why Part 2 lags in comparison to its first half, it’s important to understand what made The 20/20 Experience work so well in the first place. Though it certainly wasn’t an “easy” pop record and had its fair share of indulgences, the fluorescent, six-plus minute extravaganzas that made up The 20/20 Experience stood strong with catchy hooks, mesmerizing production, and JT’s pristine, soulful vocals. Yes, some songs overstayed their welcome, but tracks like Pusher Love Girl, Don’t Hold the Wall, and the stunning Tunnel Vision conjured pure euphoria with each passing minute.
At a passing glance, Part 2 doesn’t seem like it should be much different than its predecessor. The album is just as rich and expansive as part one, and the same cosmic Timbaland production still defines much of the record as it did previously. There’s even an unnecessary Jay Z feature once again, and as a bonus, Drake even makes an appearance in the satisfying Cabaret. But unlike the first record, Part 2, for the most part, feels far too wrapped up in its indulgences and significantly lacking in strong hooks to make up for it. True Blood, for instance, feels far too muddled and confused to justify its nine minute run time, juggling rave beats, piled-on vocal flourishes, and wolf howls (seriously) for much of its duration (and yes, the title is based on the show…sigh).
Other such moments impress, but nowhere near to the same extent as they did on the first album. The album’s first single, Take Back the Night, recalls much of the shimmering neon glow of Part 1’s finer moments, and is sure to be a crowd pleaser, but I can’t help but feel that it’s just a weaker version of Suit & Tie. Meanwhile, single TKO, perhaps the album’s finest moment, brings in the space-freak energy that made Tunnel Vision so wonderful. However, the song is still held back by a number of unnecessary details, namely the cringe-worthy Timbaland hook “She killed me with that kootchy-koo.”
“Part 2” does explore some different genres than its predecessor, but in no way does that mean it pays off. Take Drink You Away, a bit of a downer of a JT song that incorporates elements of classic blues rock, has a guitar line that sounds suspiciously close to Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Only When I Walk Away, possibly the most uncharacteristically aggressive song Timberlake has ever written, is carried by a number of Clapton-esque riffs and guitar leads. While these are noble attempts at variety, they prove a horrible match for JT’s pop sensibilities, and stick out as cheesy and inauthentic. The biggest blemish on the album, however, is the eleven minute epic cheese-fest that is Not a Bad Thing, the album’s unfortunate closing statement. The track is basically two songs stuck together – the first could be mistaken for a classic n*Sync ballad, while the other half is basically Hey There Delilah – but they’re joined by the absolute sappiest and corniest love lyrics I’ve heard come out of Timberlake’s mouth. “If I had one wish / I know what I’d wish for / I’d fly away on this pair of wings with you.” You’re better than this Hallmark stuff, JT.
But Part 2 doesn’t spend too much time on the sentimentalities. In fact, one of the main things that sets it apart from its predecessor is its more promiscuous lyrical content. Timberlake isn’t a tail-chasing kid anymore – he’s a grown man in a happy marriage with actress Jessica Biel – and on 20/20 Experience, the themes of love and attraction he explored felt mature and geared towards one person. When Timberlake said “A million people in a crowded room / but my camera lens is already set to zoom" in Tunnelvision, you really got the feeling that, in JT’s mind, nobody else in the world existed but him and whoever his caught his camera’s eye.
Part 2, however, paints a more immature picture of a young, single guy prowling night clubs for his next lay, with the lyrics of Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want) and Murder coming off more like bad pick-up lines than honest declarations of desire (“Now take me to your jungle, I’m not afraid / And if you’re looking for your animal, hop in my cage” he so bluntly suggests on the former). Promiscuity in pop music is fine, but for an artist like Justin Timberlake, it feels far less genuine at this point in his career.
It’s hard to really say I’m disappointed by this record, but only because there really seemed like no need for this record to exist in the first place. I think we were all more than satisfied with Part 1 as a comeback album, and it seems like his current hits will be on the radio for the foreseeable future. Part 2, by comparison, simply feels like an inessential cash grab, and it's strong evidence that everyone’s favorite pop star might be overstaying his welcome.4 October, 2013 - 04:30 — Peter Quinton