Despite lacking cohesion, Timberlake’s second installment of ‘perfect vision’ still captivates
Justin Timberlake⎪The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 ⎪ RCA ⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 30, 2013
So I’ve been given the tall task of describing Justin Timberlake’s second album of 2013, The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2. Oh these are the albums that make a music critic work extra hard – these big uns you know. How does one describe such an affair such as this? Well, it’s certainly ambitious, lengthy as far a duration, very urban in quality, and well ‘all over the map’. Here’s the thing, Justin Timberlake tends to do pretty well by being all over the map and making a big, if disjointed pop album. Maybe disjointed isn’t even the right word, but I’m certainly pretty sure that this album couldn’t possible have ‘20/20 vision’, save for it’s focal theme of love. That said, even if this album has plenty of flaws, it still manages to be sort of captivating, somehow.
“Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” is a solid starting point overall, with a funked up beat and dually soulful and hip vocals from Timberlake. The song is definitely not promoting the chivalrous, with sexual innuendo being the focus on JT’s introduction: “Sounds are calm, when we become the animals that were made in the jungle.” If Justin’s dirty-minded antics weren’t enough, he confirms his lustful desires on the chorus: “Now take me to your jungle, I’m not afraid / and if you’re looking for your animal, hop in my cage…” All in all, while Timberlake overplays sex and Timberland/Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon overdo the production ever so slightly, “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” works.
“True Blood” is an interesting listen if nothing else, but nearing the ten minute mark, the cut is a bit exhaustive. Still, one can’t deny the pleasure of this sensually-driven dance cut. It’s twisted, but undeniable, which seems to be Timberlake’s intention. “I think she’s got that true blood / every time your ‘round I can smell it in you / she’s got that true blood / I come around and raise the hell out of you / it’s that demon in me that’s got me screaming…” If you can bear a ten minute number (and a slickly produced one at that), this one has some great things going for it.
“Cabaret” featuring Drake isn’t too shabby, though like the previous cuts, the production work trends hyper. Still, the pop-soul quality, aided by the underlying harmonic progression and of course Timberlake’s pipes makes this cut a winner overall. Having Drake on the track doesn’t hurt either… Still, lyric “Cause I got you saying Jesus so much it’s like we are laying in the manger” seems a bit much, for believers and non-believers alike. Blasphemy, I say! What was he thinking?!?! Was it that serious JT?
“TKO” is cohesive lyrically, if you consider alluding to ‘the nasty’ through sports clever. Sure it’s on most people’s minds, but I’m not sure that boxing is usually associated with the bedroom. “Baby, every day in training to get the gold / that’s why your body’s crazy”, Timberlake generalizes on the first verse. Later, he goes onto say that “Baby, now I really know what we’re fighting for / this rematch sex is amazing…” Yeah, I think I threw up just a little bit. I’m all about swag and all, but is a does such a line really represent swag? Well, at least the hip-hop experimentation and switch-up at the end keeps things interesting.
“Take Back The Night” is a no-brainer highlight, no questions ask. Where the solid but somewhat clunky “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” opens and establishes a tone for The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2, “Take Back The Night” sort of brings the album back to earth. The cut is this edition’s “Suit & Tie”, only with less fanfare. All the pieces are in play here, with Timberlake killing it with his falsetto and the production continuing to bang. Perhaps why “Take Back The Night” is more effective than some cuts is because it feels less forced in regards to the innuendo. Of course, The Benjamin Wright Orchestra doesn’t hurt either as the sound is as important as everything else.
“Murder” once more pairs Timberlake with the ‘Picasso’ himself, Jay-Z. There isn’t a supersession of their first collaboration, but “Murder” is a worthwhile listen from my perspective. Here, the vibe is more hip-hop oriented and of course JT fits right in. The song has its moments lyrically, with Timberlake’s line “You know you killin’ me softly but we can go as hard as you want to…” standing out. Jay-Z manages to successfully close out the allusion of murder and a favorite three-letter word: “Suicide I’m trying to cut / white chalk line ‘em up / give new meaning to dying to f**k…” There it is.
“Drink You Away” has an interesting sound, combining cues from R&B, pop, country, and rock. The use of acoustic guitar particularly provides some extra timbral contrast compared to previous cuts. As far as the concept, it is actually interesting too, but lyrically, the cards seem to be dealt to obviously and too early. “I can’t drink you away / I’ve tried Jack / I’ve tried Jim / I’ve tried all of them things / but I can’t drink you away…” I mean it’s not a deal breaker, but its pretty predictable to see where and how the lyrical narrative is going to end. Alcohol rarely solves big problems, remember that.
“You Got It On” is firmly slated in contemporary R&B and benefits from slightly cooler production and perhaps being less ‘forceful’. Sure, the production is still ‘busy’ and characteristic, but it doesn’t seem to pound ‘pedal to the metal’ like earlier numbers. Throw in exceptional vocal production and more emotionally thoughtful lyrics, and “You Got It On” is pretty well rounded, regardless of its six minute duration.
“Amnesia” finally kicks off a six-eight groove – you knew it was coming! The chorus in particular is smooth and lush, sort of matching the state one could imagine for amnesia itself. Still, “Amnesia” plays like an open book if you are familiar with the condition as profundity where lyrics are concerned seems nonexistent. “Only When I Walk” adopts a pop/rock edge, again finding production work to be top-rate. Timberlake delivers the song with distorted vocals, which reminds of vintage soul and rock. Good, “Only When I Walk” is not perfect nor in the same tier as the best.
Let me be the first to say I’m not fan of hidden tracks. In CD form, “Not A Bad Thing” closes the effort with hidden track “Pair Of Wings”. To take 11 and ½ minutes in duration, the final track(s) are just so-so. “Not A Bad Thing” isn’t bad, but it does lack flare. “Pair of Wings” doesn’t sustain attention particularly well, sort of closing an album that opened so resolute a bit underwhelming. My boredom may not be someone else’s though.
Thoughts? I dunno – on the fence. I think The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 lacks cohesion and is by no means the best album of the year nor necessarily better than the earlier effort. I don’t think it’s bad, but the overstuffed tracks do take away from the album. I do dig the production switch-ups and Timberlake’s vocal abilities. Vocally, Timberlake seems to always shine, even if he has to fight layers of rhythm. Ultimately, I’d say this effort lies somewhere in the middle. It likely will be considered the stepsister to its older brother, The 20/20 Experience.
Favorites: “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)”; “Cabaret”; “Take Back The Night”; “Murder”; “You Got It On”
- Music Review: Justin Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience – 2 of 2″ (200wordreviews.wordpress.com)
- Review: Timberlake’s ‘The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2’ (nicholashautman.wordpress.com)
- Review: Justin Timberlake edgier on ’20/20 Experience – 2 of 2′ (latimes.com)
- Chart Moves, October 2, 2013: Drake 3Peats (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 Is Stellar in Its Own Right (people.com)
- Video: Justin Timberlake Performs ‘TKO’ on ‘Ellen DeGeneres Show’ (aceshowbiz.com)