Earlier this year saw the release of ‘The 20/20 Experience’ and the successful return of Justin Timberlake after six long years since ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’. Now, just over six months later, ‘2 of 2’ finalises this ‘Experience’. The killer combination of Timberlake/Timbland production is, again, successfully detonated, yet under the shadow of part one this new album seems to fizzle more than thrillingly explode.
‘Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)’ sets us up for a promising start, and immediately introduces us to the “hotter, evil, twin sister” of its March counterpart, as personified by JT himself. Unlike the orchestral – almost theatrical – ‘Pusher Love Girl’, part two’s opener is (unsubtly) darker and more lustful, and this vibe is prominent throughout the majority of the album. Drake’s fiery verse on ‘Cabaret’, for example, creates a scorching after-party ambience, which is aided by Timbland’s signature production style of blending hard-hitting bass and organic ‘human’ vocals. The same cannot be said, however, for ‘True Blood’, where werewolf vocals and cringe worthy sirens are rather a turn off for this “evil twin”. At nine minutes long, too, it overstays its welcome, and this is a recurring problem which frequently slows the pace at parts.
Yet the ultimate flaw, perhaps, is the lyrics. Often they lack the magic, charm and charisma which the man himself so often exuberates. Take this from ‘Cabaret’, for example: “Cause I got you saying Jesus so much it’s like we are laying in a manger”. Yes, really.
That being said, ‘2 of 2’ is by no means as embarrassingly poor as that line. The Jackson-esque disco grooves of ‘Take Back the Night’ lift the album up from the sinister and sultry beats of the first four songs, making it a refreshing respite before we are plunged back into the intensity of ‘Murder’ – a track which perfectly balances bass and brass, and Jay Z’s (amusing) reference to Yoko Ono’s “chocha”. ‘You Got It On’ and album closer ‘Not A Bad Thing’ also take a step back and present a more tender Timberlake reminiscent of his earlier *NSYNC days; it’s heart-warming, if that’s your kind of thing.
However, amongst an album charged with heavy basslines and forcefully sensual lyrics, the B side ‘Blindness’ is captivatingly dissimilar. Here is an absolute gem of a track, devoid of any overt metaphors (jungles, vampires, murder), consisting simply of JT’s silky vocals, hypnotic harmonies and soothing brass overtones. Whilst so many songs in ‘The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2’ feel bloated and busy, ‘Blindness’ is elegantly stripped back, laying bare Timberlake’s falsetto voice.
Thinking on behalf of my thirteen year old self who could recite ‘My Love’ on demand, part two of ‘The 20/20 Experience’ doesn’t quite match the charm of ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’, or even its March “sister”. I find myself not disappointed, but not overly impressed either, instead stuck between an infatuation with the ‘JT sound’ (which the album showcases well) and an unfulfilled desire to be awe-inspired by everything Timberlake does. There is no denying that individual songs shine bright (‘Cabaret’, ‘Take Back the Night’, ‘Murder’), but the album as a whole seems to stumble in its excess. Justin brought sexy back in 2006, perhaps in 2013 he tried to bring back too much.
Words: Josie Roberts