Just a six months ago, Justin Timberlake blasted onto the Billboard 200 at #1 with The 20/20 Experience, selling 968,000 copies in its first week. As if this wasn’t enough, now he delivers a second album this year, the second half of that Experience. Unlike its partner in crime, The 20/20 Experience, 2 of 2, is a more contemporary affair, filled with a much more hard-hitting urban sound rather than the breezy nature of the last album. Still, there are a few lighter numbers and pretty love songs to appease you. Here are my thoughts on the matter:
On the A side:
- C-C-C-Changes in Genres: The most notable change between these two eras is that there’s a little more experimenting of this half, which results in a mixed bag. One of the standouts is “Drink You Away”, with its poppy-sounding arrangement that verges on late 60’s/early 70’s psychadelic music, particularly with the prominent organ. However, Timberlake also seems to channel a Raphael Saadiq/D’Angelo style vocal as he sings, “I can’t drink you away/On these rocks, I can’t swim/Out of this skin I’m living in.” “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” is essentially the “Don’t Hold The Wall” of this album, with an animalistic feel and spacey vibe out of the 90’s, complete with samples of elephants and birds, oh my. No wonder that he, himself, wants to get animal: “Take me to your jungle, I’m not afraid… come here, gimme what I don’t know/I want.” I also enjoy the reggae influence and knocking beat on “Only When I Walk Away”, as well as the pop/rock “Not A Bad Thing”, which is the direction Timberlake should be going in in the future.
- Dark Side of the Tune: Timberlake and Timbaland work best on some of the darker ditties, which seems to be a common theme at least on the first half of this. “True Blood” is a modern-day take on Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller”, an air of mystery surrounding it. The nine-and-a-half minute song is too long (it held my attention for the first five minutes) but it does several things really well, including that prominent guitar solo and the eerie violin reversed for even more effect. Timberlake attempts to do his best Vincent Price (I give it a C), but it is one of the more inviting songs on the album and is perfect with Halloween next month. In the same way, “Murder”, featuring Jay Z, is a hot banger flourished with the occasional brass boost. Yet, its lyrics are rooted in an evil woman on the prowl: “Ooh, that girl is murder/Everybody get down.” The rap break is actually enjoyable too, as Jay name-checks John Lennon, Yoko Ono and The Beatles. These are probably the two most inspired and best-sounding tracks on here and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them becomes a single at one point.
- Vulnerability on Vinyl: Saying that Timberlake thinks highly of himself is an understatement. Now, whether you call that confidence or cockiness, I’ll leave that up to you. However, it is nice to see him leave that on the back burner enough to be a little sensitive. Ballad “You Got It On” shows this tenderness off nicely, which verges into R. Kelly‘s steppin’ songs for a hot minute, but is also very much Timberlake. It’s a little old school for his younger listeners, but at the same time, it’s a heartfelt ode dedicated to his wife, Jessica Biel. The same is true of hidden track “Pair Of Wings”, with an understated guitar and vocal arrangement, a nice change of pace as Timberlake goes down the James Taylor/Jim Croce route. No wonder it isn’t listed just because it’s so different. He coos, “We keep getting older, the world keeps getting colder/Tell me when did we lose our way? … But if I had one wish, I know what I’d wish for/There’s only one thing that would do/I’d fly away on this pair of wings with you.” Hello! It’s sentimental enough without getting too cheesy. That’s the way to do it.
On the flip side:
- Tiring of Timbaland (and Timberlake): The main criticism of this album, and I think enough people have already picked up on this, is that the Timbaland production sound is already starting to get really old and isn’t too much different from what we were hearing on FutureSex/LoveSounds back in 2006. “TKO” could have been on there; same with “Murder”, as well as “Amnesia”. It’s tired. There’s nothing new to discover. It’s likable to an extent, especially “Murder”, but some of these songs sound so phoned in that it’s frustrating. Timberlake’s songwriting is also not where it needs to be at this point in his career, and although it’s never been his strongest suit, there are some cringeworthy lines that just ruin the experience. This is a line in the song “Cabaret”: “I got you saying Jesus so much, it’s like we’re laying in a manger.” That’s an actual lyric, people. Stop the madness and stop getting trying to get your sexy on, you two. Go ‘head, be gone with it.
- Song That Go Too Long: The interludes. Cut the interludes already. Some of them, especially the one on “True Blood” which extends it over nine minutes, are unnecessary and clog up the album. I don’t want to go on for too long about this since I already complained enough about it on the first album, but really? Since when do album cuts nowadays go six, seven, even nine minutes in length? I guess I wouldn’t have a problem with the concept so much if the ones on this album had some substance and weren’t just for show. You can still be a real artist without making things crazy long. I know Timberlake’s made some comments in the past about figuring out the single edits after the album is done, but why not be more conscious about it in the process? I’m just glad that this isn’t going to be a trend. Otherwise, everyone would be zoning out sooner rather than later.
- RCA = Really Can’t Articulate (A Strategy): This whole era had some major problems which I think prevented it from being just a little bit bigger than it could’ve been. First of all, whomever decided to rush release a second part of the album in September to get it eligible for the GRAMMY Awards only to find that RCA didn’t submit the individual packages as entries and bundled them up needs to be canned. Whenever that person decided that, you ultimately didn’t factor in that “Take Back The Night” would be treated as a third radio single and not a first, and because of the hesitance radio had with “Suit & Tie” for a number of weeks before it went top ten because of the sound, it was doomed from day one. “TKO” is a forgettable followup single that, again, radio can’t behind fully because your editing skills need some improvement. Then again, maybe the men behind the song are responsible for that. Also, what was with not releasing the radio edits, or 7″ edits if we’re truly talking, of the songs digitally? Those single sales would’ve been so much higher. I could go on and on, but man, if only I was in charge… I guess I’ll have to daydream away on that one.
Verdict: At this point, I’m not ready to make a call on which of these two albums is the stronger half, but I guess I’ll sum it up this way: this may be The 20/20 Experience, but the vision is still cloudy. If having 20/20 vision means you have a normal vision, then with all the blurring of music tastes wrapped in two albums, I’m totally lost. This isn’t even a half-throwback, half-modern sort of album. Both parts of the era are so equally unbalanced and unfortunately, on the whole, that leaves this Experience as less than satisfying in the end result. Don’t get me wrong, this album is still worth a listen and purchase for everything that does it right. There are some really well-constructed songs. Next time around, however, I would suggest that Timberlake works with other producers and focuses on writing more quality material than leaving it up to the arrangers and musicians to save these songs. It was a nice try, it really was, but pack that top hat and shined shoes away for a while after the tour is over. You won’t realize it now, but we’ll all be thanking you for it later.
Download: “Drink You Away”, “Murder” (featuring Jay Z), “Pair Of Wings”, “Take Back The Night”, “True Blood”