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Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 Review

October 1, 2013 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas

1. “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” (5:15)
2. “True Blood” (9:31)
3. “Cabaret” (ft. Drake) (4:33)
4. “TKO” (7:04)
5. “Take Back the Night” (5:53)
6. “Murder” (ft. Jay Z) (5:08)
7. “Drink You Away” (5:31)
8. “You Got It On” (5:56)
9. “Amnesia” (7:05)
10. “Only When I Walk Away” (7:06)
11. “Not a Bad Thing” (5:10)
12. “Pair of Wings” (6:18)*

* Hidden track

Love him or hate him, there’s one thing you cannot deny: 2013 has been the year of Justin Timberlake. The pop star-turned actor/business mogul-turned pop star (again) made a triumphant return to music in March with The 20/20 Experience, his first album in seven years and one that captured the attention of critics and listeners alike. Not only did it log the best sales of the week by far to date, it was praised by critics for its musical diversity and potential impact on the landscape of R&B-tinged pop music. Timberlake has since followed that up with a standout performance at the MTV Video Music Awards and his latest film, Runner Runner, releases this Friday to show that he’s not ignoring the other aspects of his career. Not to be outdone by his other efforts though, Timberlake has another album release in the sequel (or companion, if you would prefer) to his first album in seven years. That album, The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 drops today in order to prove that the pop star’s return to music wasn’t just a lucky swing.

Timberlake wrote and recorded all the music for both 20/20 Experience albums at the same time, and then had to decide how to put it out. By Timberlake’s admission, he decided to release them thematically in relation to when the LPs dropped; as The 20/20 Experience was released in the summer, it would be a “Spring/Summer collection…all the songs that I feel like I’d want to hear in the summertime.” Consequently, with 2 of 2 is being released toward the end of the year it is a darker LP; as he has called it the “hotter, older evil twin sister” of Part 1. And you immediately get that sense off the first song, as “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” kicks off with a Timberlake’s vocals about animalistic carnal desire before kicking into handclaps and a club beat that lets Timberlake deliver some sultry, seductive lyrics. “Gimme” is nearly as different of a track from 1 of 1’s “Pusher Love Girl” as you can imagine; while that one was a smooth and laid-back neo-soul jam that started with a swell of swings, this one is a clear club hit that oozes sensuality. The lyrics are not subtle with lines like “Now take me to your jungle, I’m not afraid/and if you’re looking for your animal, hop in my cage,” but Timberlake has never been about subtlety and this grooves along very nicely.

The next track on the album is pure kitsch. “True Blood” is going to attract a lot of attention due to its borrowing a title from the HBO show that everyone knows; it’s already been labeled by many as Timberlake’s attempt to have his own “Thriller” but that doesn’t seem entirely accurate. “Thriller” is an all-time great track and of course Timberlake’s song, with Timbaland cackling in a loop between chorus and verse while the lyrics sing an extended supernatural metaphor, doesn’t hit that height. But this is more like its namesake than Jackson’s Halloween opus; it’s debauched and sexy amidst the eye-rolling camp, and there’s something glorious there between lyrics about “evil in a dress” and “it’s that demon in me that’s got me screaming.” You also have to admire the audaciousness of Timberlake to respond to critiques about 1 of 1’s song lengths by delivering a song that runs over nine and a half minutes.

And make no mistake…there are some longer tracks on here. What complaints there were about 1 of 1 can be applied to 2 of 2 as well. I didn’t have any issue with the extended length of the tracks on the first LP, because if a song can keep one’s attention and enjoyment enough to flow directly into the next then the length doesn’t matter. In truth, “Mirrors” is one of the best tracks on 1 of 1 and it’s the longest track. On 2 of 2 there are a couple of numbers that get legitimately too long, but for those who are tired of six to seven minute JT epics we have “Cabaret,” which uses a backing of mouth-clicks and pounding synths to frame suggestive-to-explicit lyrics like “Now can we discuss how fast you just got undressed” and the cringe-worthy but cute “I got you saying ‘Jesus’ so much it’s like we’re laying in a manger” before Drake busts in for one of the more inspired verses he’s done in a long while. It’s no standout track but it’s short, sweet and to the point; there’s nothing wrong with that.

From there we drop right into the singles. First up is “TKO,” which features some really impressive sampling work as Timberlake delivers one of his better breakup songs to date. Don’t get me wrong; this is no “Cry Me a River” or “What Goes Around Comes Around.” But it places solidly in third behind those numbers in his career. Lyrics like “It cuts right on my eye, yeah it hurt, won’t lie/still can’t see, think I saw you with another guy” are inspired and he extends that boxing-as-breaking up metaphor to maximum effect, never going too far as he can sometimes do. After that comes “Take Back the Night,” which is the most clear statement that Timberlake is ready for Jackson’s throne yet. The song echoes the “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” vibe of the King of Pop’s catalogue but melds that late ’70s sound with a thoroughly modern take for something that sounds appropriately timeless. The two songs could scarcely be more different musically, but combined together they flow naturally and come off as a smooth transition that accentuates his diversity as an artist.

Timberlake isn’t done with Jay-Z either and it’s probably not a surprise that Hova shows up on 2 of 2 considering their big tour. In this case it’s on “Murder” and while Timberlake’s stuff is good sexy fun, Jay seems to be almost out of breath partway through his contribution as the third verse and he can’t seem to get ahead of the beat. It’s too bad because there’s something wackily inspired about starting off by rhyming about the power of Yoko One’s sexual prowess, but he falls apart by the end. Still, Timberlake keeps the fun rolling on that one.

And this, unfortunately, is where things become a little shakier. Inexplicably Timberlake shifts into a country-inspired R&B pop number for “Drink You Away,” which musically recalls “You and I,” the least-successful of Gaga’s Born This Way tracks. Timberlake’s take is better because it doesn’t lay on the twang quite so heavily but it still seems out of place, like an attempt to show that he can indeed take on every genre and come out ahead. He almost pulls off that difficult feat but comes up a little bit short. The next track, “You Got It On,” is a fine slow jam but loses a bit of focus by being buried between “Drink” and “Amnesia,” the two worst songs on the album. “Amnesia,” like “Drink,” is not a horrible song. But when you’ve raised the bar to the level that Timberlake has in his musical releases this year, the number comes off as a bit generic and it’s certainly the least inspired number on the album.

Luckily he picks it up nicely in the final two (or is it three?) numbers. “Only When I Walk Away” is a rock-influenced number, with a weeping guitar in the background as the beat flows along underneath JT’s lyrics about the push-and-pull attitudes of a former lover who “loves me now but only when I walk away.” The rock edge combined with some echo sampling by Timbaland makes this a fun, almost bluesy experience. The final track may widen eyes at first because it’s an eleven and a half minute number, but worry not; even Timberlake isn’t that audacious. It’s two tracks in one, the soaring wings of the love anthem “Not a Bad Thing” and the slow ballad “Pair of Wings.” They show that Timberlake’s evil, hotter system of an album still has a gentle side that can be appreciated, giving a lovely close to an LP that, if not a game-changer like 1 of 1, still stands out among pop releases this year.

Standout Tracks: “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want),” “TKO,” “Take Back the Night,” “Not a Bad Thing”

Skippable: “Drink You Away,” “Amnesia”

The 411: Justin Timberlake's first album in the 20/20 Experience set was a bold statement that went distinctly against the grain of pop music trends. The second LP moves back into mainstream sensibility without losing much of the enjoyment factor. There's a lot here for everyone to enjoy; it's full of the sexy jams, club hits and even the breakup song that we would expect of Timberlake. In many ways The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 sounds more like a FutureSex/LoveSounds sequel than a 1 of 1 sequel, but either way the important part is how it proves that, even with some missteps, Timberlake can make just about any kind of pop music he wants and remain at the forefront of the genre, confidently leading the way.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  8.5   [ Very Good ]  legend

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Jeremy Thomas
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