Justin Timberlake, ‘The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2′ – Album Review
Justin Timberlake‘s ‘The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2′ is not leftovers from the Part 1’s sessions nor is it songs not good enough to make that album’s track listing. It is and feels like a totally different album and is more urban-leaning album, both sonically and thematically.
It’s got a closer relationship to 2006’s’Future Sex/Love Sounds,’ and embarks on a primal exploration of EDM and employs hefty production values. It’s anything but pure pop, with songs that last well over the digestible, radio-friendly three-minute mark. JT allows himself the time and space to indulge every sonic impulse, and he’s earned it, since the Part 1 is one of the best-sellers of 2013. Plus, we waited several years for these releases.
‘The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2′ is a soulfully executed and urban-infused album mixing R&B and pop, with a girl who has broken JT’s heart at the center of all the lyrical action. We have to suspend disbelief and remember that while the artist is happily married to Jessica Biel, his lyrical protagonist is romantically miserable.
1. ‘Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)’
The album kicks off with this strangely compelling pop song that doesn’t highlight JT’s falsetto. His vocal loop is supported by handclaps, blips, beeps and animal sounds, since, you know, he sings about being taken to the jungle and hanging in his cave as a metaphor. On several levels, it harks back to his ‘Future Sex/Love Sounds’ sonic ethos.
2. ‘True Blood‘
If JT covered a Lady Gaga song, it would sound like ‘True Blood.’ No, it’s not an homage to the popular HBO vampire series, either. The song, heavy on studio processing and treatment, is artful and dramatic, like any of Gaga’s songs. It’s alternately tribal and robotic with its spoken words, fusing two disparate styles. The ending evolves into a banger anthem fit for an acid trip. By the second song, it’s clear that while this is ‘2 of 2′ for ‘The 20/20,’ the albums don’t have much sonic connective tissue. Part 1 was throwbacky, Rat Pack pop and Part 2… just isn’t.
3. ‘Cabaret’ Feat. Drake
JT and Drizzy pass the mic over undulating, lean back beats in this romantic jammy jam. Here, the singer lets his vocal smoothness take center stage. It’s an interesting pairing with Drake’s nasally raps. “I got you saying Jesus so much it’s like we’re laying in a manger” is actually a lyric that JT spouts off; we love when he sings “I’m a professional but I like to do my work at home.” Drake rapid fires his raps, and the song is a solid contrast to what comes before it, as the singer beats his chest and boasts. It’s YMCMB x JT.
‘TKO’ is this album’s ‘Cry Me a River.’ JT utilizes a boxing metaphor from stem to stern, musing over a lover who’s moved on while still holding his heart in her hands. He cycles through the phases of breakup grief and makes that shizzay sound so good. Ultimately, it’s an urban banger. [Listen Here]
5. ‘Take Back the Night’
This is the song that sounds most similar to anything on Part 1, thanks to its horns and ’70s and ’80s New York City pop energy. It’s upbeat and modern and it’s also JT’s version of Rat Pack pop, which has the same spirit of songs that were sung on street corners and by barbershop quartets.
6. ‘Murder’ Feat. Jay Z
Since ‘Suit & Tie’ was such a smash hit, it only made sense for the Hova to come back for a reprise, this time with ‘Murder,’ a decidedly different song than their previous collabo. It’s a track where JT compares the girl who’s got his heart to a murderer. Love is a battlefield, and that’s a point the singer makes multiple times on this album. It’s a sassy diss track of sorts with a tense beat. It reminds us of Bel Biv Devoe’s ‘Poison,’ a smash from the ’90s. The Hov’s rap is full of repeatable lines about how the gold digga got her claws in him and has him doing crazy stuff like buying her a Range Rover and more.
7. ‘Drink You Away’
‘Drink You Away’ is one of the most unique songs on the record. It mixes a rock riff with bluesy keys and other elements of that mournful genre, as JT laments not being able to employ an elixir of the alcoholic sort to get this girl off his mind. That’s everything that the blues embodies! He sings, “I’ve tried Jack / I’ve tried Jim / I’ve tried all of ’em” but it’s futile biz trying to forget her. The song is a modern pop/rock/blues fusion and it’s easily one of the most memorable tracks on ‘2 of 2.’ Love done got him good and bad, and he is looking for a cure.
8. ‘You Got It On’
JT also incorporates a slow, sultry, ’80s-influenced R&B jam on the record in the form of ‘You Got It On.’ It’s another love song where he contemplates ending up where he started with his lady love. Taking vocal cues from Michael Jackson, the ‘Lake makes the most effective use of his falsetto on this sleek track.
Tribal beats and JT’s butter smooth voice reveal his pain about yet another heartache and an insane love. While we all wish we can get a case of amnesia over a relationship gone bad, JT’s voice makes that pain sound good. The song fades out in a vocal swirl lamenting his lover becoming a stranger. But it’s a false outro, as JT continues to sing about memories fading. This is the kind of song Justin Bieber wishes he could write. Give it time, Biebs, but take notes.
10. ‘Only When I Walk Away’
Rock-infused blues rears its head again with this track, which boasts studio-treated vocals, giving JT’s voice a bit of a distorted sound. It’s not quite Auto-Tuned, but it’s processed. However, the song is really charged by a rock ‘n’ roll battery. He can’t figure out this damn love, but he’s going to try. His emotions are amped and so is the song.
11. ‘Not a Bad Thing’
After the lyrically dark and dank mood of ‘Only When I Walk Away,’ JT bounces back on a note of hope with ‘Not a Bad Thing,’ which is airier, roomier and dreamier, as his voice blooms over a soft pop groove. It’s breezy like the air on an island, and it finds JT promising not to be “that guy”; he’s loyal, he’s in love and he’s going to stick around. Therefore, the album ends on a note of hope.
12. Hidden Track
The album doesn’t end where you think. There is a tender hidden track that’s driven by an acoustic guitar and JT’s raw voice. He doesn’t flip the switch on the falsetto, instead singing in a low, soft voice about saving his beloved from the problems of the world and flying her away on a big old pair of wings. It’s a folky song that’s centered on his voice. It’ a sweet little discovery.