Justin Timberlake ‘The 20/20 Experience’ – Review

5 Oct

When I heard that Justin Timberlake was releasing ‘The 20/20 Experience Part 2’ I felt a little cheated. I had ‘Part 1’ all figured out, with a clear narrative; it was an ambitious yet concise comeback album that preached the virtues of a stable and sensual relationship. It was a sophisticated, contemporary pop album that earned good will and high praise from all corners. It was rich in High-soul and extended metaphors. It was sharp and well-rounded, not in need of explanation or further elaboration. My initial response to ‘Part 2’ was – this is simply redundant.

There is the initial problem of how to categorise the album. Should we consider it a direct continuation of Part 1? Is it a companion piece? Should we join them together as a double album? Actually none of these approaches seem valid – this is a completely different album to Part 1, much more scatterbrained, instinctive, conflicted and dramatic. In tone and style it’s much closer to Justin’s innovative 2006 record ‘Future Sex / Love Sounds.’ Where Part 1 was romantic, funny and light on its feet, Part 2 is sexual, moody and heavy. On ‘True Blood’ he takes on the role of a lustful Vampire, on ‘Caberet’ he is a sleazy Lothario, on ‘TKO’ he is a scorned lover. Where ‘Part 1’ was purposefully cohesive and content, ‘Part 2’ is purposefully incohesive and discontent. Where Timbaland showed admirable stylistic restraint on Part 1, here he overstuffs many of the tracks with the sounds and ticks that have become a trademark.

Unfortunately, as a result, some of these songs feel bloated when compared to the smooth and slim-line ‘Mirrors’ or ‘Suit and Tie’. It doesn’t help that the already overwrought sonic hooks of ‘True Blood’ and ‘TKO’ are stretched out to the 10 minute mark. All but a couple of these songs have excessive running times. As a single entity the record is far too long but when taken as the second half of a single project it becomes an impossible listen. But despite the obvious flaws these songs exude an energy and personality that it could be argued were missing from songs on ‘Part 1’. After that album he was compared to legends like Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and R. Kelly, here the artist he sounds most like is Justin Timberlake.

When JT diverges from the ‘Future Sex / Love Sounds’ path of the first four songs, the album becomes a much less distinctive but far more listenable ‘experience’. Throughout the second half he experiments in genres with impressive success. ‘Take Back the Night’ has a curiously forgettable hook but an absolute first class arrangement that recalls ‘Off the Wall’ in the very best sense. ‘You Got It On’ is a beautiful soul ballad that solidify’s JT’s reputation as 2013’s most endearing romantic. He also successfully experiments with blues rock on ‘Only When I Walk Away’ and Tween pop balladry on ‘Not a Bad Thing’. At times though the songwriting is lacklustre, suggesting some of these songs should have been left on the cutting room floor. Album opener ‘Give Me What I Don’t Know I Want’ is laboured and unconvincing as a come-on. ‘Caberet’ and ‘Drink You Away’ are pure throwaway whilst ‘Murder’ is notable only for containing 2013’s worst Jay Z verse yet – quite a feat when you consider some of the tosh he’s put out this year.

Overall this is undoubtedly a flawed record, and yet it’s still hard not to admire Justin and Timbaland. Taken as a whole The 20/20 Experience may just be the most ambitious and single-minded album to be taken seriously as a commercial entity, And that’s just the point; this shouldn’t be considered as an album – it’s an experience. On the album opener JT asks for ‘something I don’t know I want’. It’s an instruction on how to enjoy the album – six months ago you didn’t know you wanted Part 2 of the ’20/20 Experience’ but you’ll be glad it’s here. It reveals yet more layers and complexities in the music of this century’s most interesting and succesfull Male pop star.


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