Justin Timberlake’s ‘The 20/20 Experience – 2 Of 2′: Album Review

Sep 30th, 2013 // 7 Comments
JT's "TKO"
justin timberlake tko
Hear another 20/20 Experience Vol. 2 cut. Read More »
"Night" Moves
justin timberlake take back the night video
Watch Justin Timberlake's "Take Back The Night" video. Read More »
JT On Kimmel
Watch Justin perform hits old and new on JKL. Read More »
Vol. 1 Review
justin timberlake 20 20 experience large
Look back at our review of part 1 of The 20/20 Experience. Read More »
justin timberlake the 20:20 experience 2 of 2
“But Justin Timberlake doesn’t need to do this.” Ahead of the release of The 20/20 Experience in March, that was the battle cry of those contrarian JT fans who thought maybe this comeback was a bad idea. Upon learning that he’d be linking up with a seemingly past-his-prime Timbaland for the whole thing, they thought it would result in a bunch of stale 2006 leftovers comprising skittering percussion and background beat-boxing and other tired tricks that could only sully JT’s legacy.

The naysayers were completely wrong. “Suit & Tie” came along and it was a new (old) sound from the duo, while “Mirrors” found JT’s new soul-and-champagne aesthetic coalescing beautifully with Timbaland’s brittle space beats, and everyone realized the duo knew exactly what they were doing. The comeback ended up being a triumph, critically and commercially, so when Timberlake announced that there’d be a second volume of 20/20, we accepted this as a great thing. Six years of waiting ends with two albums! Pop’s attempt at Use Your Illusion I and II!

We let our guard down. The 20/20 Experience – 2 Of 2 (out ) is the misstep we were bracing for back in March. The naysayers were completely right.

Volume 2 opens with a grand a cappella harmony — sort of a parallel to the sweeping strings that start the first installment. Unfortunately, it’s one of the few striking moments on a jarringly generic album. Gone is the extravagance, gone is the classy entertainer charm, as Timberlake spends much of the first half of this volume sing-talking in his lower “cool dude” register, with listeners forced to claw through thickets of Timbaland tropes to find any semblance of a hook or chorus. Side one amounts to a lot of moving parts going nowhere.

Opener “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” is a clunky jungle-as-sex metaphor that probably should’ve been erased from existence the moment Bruno Mars‘ “Gorilla” emerged. “True Blood” is a clunky vampirism-as-sex metaphor trying to coast on the fact that it’s a “Thriller” homage, but with that “ha ha ha” refrain can’t even function as a Lady Gaga demo homage. “TKO” is a clunky boxing-as-sex metaphor over a 2005 beat. “Cabaret,” a clunky bedroom-as-burlesque metaphor, but at least it’s redeemed by Drake‘s verse. (Compare that to Jay Z, who on “Murder” does the exact opposite of what the title says, somehow turning in a verse even worse than his turn on the mic in “Suit & Tie.”)

Even Part 1′s bonus tracks have more vitality and melody than this opening suite. This is all good news for “Take Back The Night,” which has never sounded better than it does next to these misfires. It’s a much more effective homage to MJ than “True Blood,” and the fizzy disco bounce swoops in to save Timbaland from himself. (Timbo should get as much of the blame as Justin for the failures on this album. Not only are these some of his least exciting beats, but he also spends far too much time doing his ridiculous hype man carnival barking over much of the proceedings. Nobody has ever said “I just wish the song had more background chatter from Timbaland,” and this album guarantees nobody ever will.)

JT, Tim and J-Roc are better than this, and the guys redeem themselves on side two. “Drink You Away” is by far the album’s most interesting cut, melding barroom rock with glossy studio flair, like the trio had an epiphany while listening to Born This Way. It’s really the first time Timberlake’s voice sounds as strong and smooth as it did on Volume 1, and it has an actual, honest-to-God chorus that you can sing along to.

The rich vocals and hooks stick around for “You Got It On,” which would fit right in sandwiched between “Pusher Love Girl” and “That Girl.” On the oustanding “Only When I Walk Away,” Timberlake yelps over a dirty blues riff, before it all melts away into a reggae fever dream. Finally, motion that’s getting us somewhere.

Tracks seven through 11 are nearly as strong as anything  on Volume 1 (though it’s worth noting the very enjoyable “Mirrors” ripoff “Not A Bad Thing” would never stand a chance against the original). The comeback to the comeback should’ve stopped there. It didn’t. Hidden 12th track “Pair Of Wings” is a pretty standard acoustic ballad, if the standard is insipid fifth grade poetry. There are roughly five lines repeated throughout the six-minute (!) song, all of them terrible, including: “All you’d have to pack is your heart to bring / And there we are, you and me / Flying on a big ol’ pair of wings,” “We keep getting older / The world keeps getting colder / Tell me when did we lose our way.” It makes “Hi, my name is Bob and I work at my job” sound like Dylan.

How “Pair Of Wings” and half the other songs on this album got through any vetting process and were deemed worthy follow-ups to Part 1, we may never know (hopefully that making-of will delve into it!). It’s the first real blemish on JT’s catalog, and more than disappointment, The 20/20 Experience – 2 Of 2 elicits frustration, because it was so unnecessary. Justin Timberlake didn’t need to do this, and that’s exactly how it sounds.

Idolator Score: 2.5/5

Carl Williott

idolator

  1. Territc

    Based on your review, I would not have purchased this album. I am extremely glad you didn’t get the pleasure of reviewing this album before today, because you obviously suck at reviewing or this is just personal. 2 of 2 is far better than 1 of 2 and as far as I am concerned, contender for Album of the Year. Maybe you should leave reviewing to those who are more objective than yourself.

  2. Who can I talk to be able to fire him. you’re crazy, the album is very good, look at the reviews of his fellow Rolling Stone and Billboard.

  3. drew

    He came in like a wrecking ball…..

  4. Jah

    I agree with this article. I barely like 1 song on this album.

  5. RtA1913

    So just because people liked the album they bash the reviewer? Wow people impress me, how pity! If you liked the album good for you, but I completely agree with Carl, the album is lackluster, i love me some JT but this whole era is overrated and overhyped, there are way better albums than his. I liked some tracks but since there is no Mirrors expect this era to fade away quickly. And please Justin drop Timbaland, enough is enough.

  6. Eric

    It’s funny to me that this reviewer tries to pan JT’s lyrics, but they shower praise over “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball”, songs that, while catchy, showcase some of the worst lyrics to ever grace a pop song. And then there is “Roar,” a favorite of mine, but those lyrics, riddled with cliches that should never, ever be used.

    • exactly it seems only justin writes silly lyrics give me one hit that makes sense these days not just that they keep saying there are better albums but no examples emerge you hear nothing but screaming over electro but its ok as long as its catchy and I want to know why should he erase a song cause mars had a similar concept
      why cant they criticize justin without offences

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