Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (Part 2)

Now that the dust has settled from the return of JustinTimberlake to the music scene, it’s easier to look at the second part of his ‘20/20 Experience’ with a little more objectivity.  Is this a return to form, or simply the dregs left over from part one?

Certainly, part two is more of a companion piece than a full second album.  The songs simply aren’t as strong, with Timberlake and producer Timbaland falling into the same pitfalls as before.  Yet this is by no means a bad album.

Pitfall number one is the length of the songs.  This may have been much maligned in part one, but at least many of the tracks were effectively two songs in one: theme and variation.  Here, the songs feel too dragged out with endless repeats of the same themes and they mostly lack the inventive outros.  Anyone who faulted part one for being self-indulgent will have switched off long before the end – an error in this reviewer’s opinion.

Pitfall number two is the sleazy lyrics.  Whilst not as obviously promiscuous as with part one overall, Cabaret features lines like “if sex is a contest then you’re coming first” and later “I got you saying Jesus so much it’s like we’re laying in a manger”.  Timberlake’s not alone however, with Timbaland spouting "she killed me with that coo-coochie-coochie coo" on TKO (with Timberlake later singing "this rematch sex is amazing / but nobody wins"), whilst Jay-Z describes Yoko Ono as the “pussy [that] broke up The Beatles” on Murder.  ‘The 20/20 Experience’ remains, in both parts, lyrically shallow. 

The overall feel of part two, though, is certainly distinct from part one.  The production is recognisably Timbaland’s, with a darker, grittier sound that includes only one ballad – final track Not A Bad Thing that swings from sweetness to vomit-inducing in the second half.  From opening track Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want), it’s obvious that the pair are trying to recapture the magic of ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ – gone are the funk orchestrations of part one in favour of metallic synths and heavy beats.  The vampiric True Blood matches the production to its subject matter (“it’s that demon in me that’s got me screaming / Make me wanna build a coffin for two”), even including a Thriller-esque speech half way through.  And current single TKO is pure Timbaland, with its hip-hop sound.

That’s not to say this is one dimensional, with many tracks breaking new ground in Timberlake’s musical oeuvre.  Lead single Take Back The Night marks a suitable bridge between the two parts with its Luther Vandross production and, whilst its disco sound might appear to be following current trends set by the likes of Get Lucky and Blurred Lines, it’s important to note that Timberlake recorded this album way back in May 2012 – who’s the real pioneer?  Drink You Away, meanwhile, takes him into brand new territory with a bluesy-country track with a modern twist, allowing for a gritty vocal performance that's just as sexy as his smoother dance hits.  Then there’s Only When I Walk Away, that sees Timberlake singing through a distortion filter for a rocky edge.  Just as with part one, this second album is full of creativity and surprises.

The main issue with part two is its lack of a big pop single to bring it all together – a Mirrors equivalent.  Amnesia comes close and slots neatly into the usual Timberlake mould, but feels a little forgettable by comparison to his best work.  That said, what part two does reveal is that even when he releases a not-quite-as-good album, it’s still a leap above most pop music in the charts.  This simply proves that he is a superstar – there's no doubting that, as a whole, ‘The 20/20 Experience’ has been one of the major musical events of the year.


Gizzle's Choice:
* True Blood
* Drink You Away
* Amnesia

Listen: 'The 20/20 Experience' is available now, in both separate and complete form.

Watch: Timberlake will be touring the UK next year.