Dustin finally stopped listening to Justin Timberlake’s new album long enough to let you know why it may be the rare case where the sequel surpasses the original.
When Justin Timberlake dropped “The 20/20 Experience” back in March, fans and critics alike praised the album as exactly what music needed. Somehow between his last album, “FutureSex/LoveSounds” and “20/20,” Timberlake became recognized as one of the most important pop artists, even earning the nickname in some circles as “the President of Pop” because you know, the “King of Pop” title has already (and eternally) been claimed. “20/20” did nothing to tarnish that image as songs like “Suit & Tie” and “Mirrors” dominated pop culture and radio waves and songs “Pusher Love Girl,” “Tunnel Vision” and “That Girl” were all so polished and clean, you’d think he was taking them home to meet his parents.
When rumors began swirling that Timberlake had a second album of songs in the works, many began to wonder what they could possibly sound like. A few weeks after “20/20s” release, JT confirmed that there would indeed be a new album, titled “The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2.”
Where “Part 1” felt like a Swiss watch in terms of its’ production and studio polish, “Part 2” finds itself playing to Timberlake’s strengths even more, largely abandoning the “classic” sound that “Part 1” worked so hard to establish. The result is a free-flowing and all-around more fun album that stops worrying about JT’s place in history and instead focuses on his place in music today.
Now, let’s dive into the album itself.
1. Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)- “Sounds that come, when we become, the animals that were made in the jungle.” That’s the first line of the album, not exactly the most subtle thing in the world but the uptempo beat, complete with subtle beatboxing, helps pull off the song’s concept of “We make love like wild animals.” We’re continually presented with the thought of giving into temptation and appearing to be civil on the surface, only to be into some wild stuff behind closed doors. The song loses a bit of its’ impact near the end, when actual animal sounds are played over the beat, the effect becomes a little bit too much but for an opening song, it’s exactly what you want.
2. True Blood- A pulsing beat similar to the African drum beat from “Let the Groove Get In” on “Part 1” propels this song which may give the listener a little bit of deja vu as lyrically, it again follows JT after a particular woman, this time though, it’s “lover as a vampire” instead of “lover as a wild animal.” Lines like “It’s time for me to get her body waste, There’s just something bout the demon that she brings out of me, When we raise hell I just can’t stay away” suggest a lust that blinds him to the toxicity of the relationship as a whole, which may be digging way deeper than he intended but given the similarities between the first two songs, the added subtext helps distinguish the songs a bit more.
3. Cabaret (featuring Aubrey “Drake” Graham)- 3 straight songs about how freaky your sex is? Bold move JT, very bold move. “Cabaret” turns the bedroom into a stage and pulpy lines like “Girl if sex is a contest then you’re coming first” and “Cause I got you saying Jesus so much it’s like we’re laying in the Manger” bring to mind the Timberlake that brought “SexyBack” and showed the entire world Janet Jackson’s pasty during the Super Bowl halftime show. Drake pops up as well and provides a good verse that we’ve become accustomed to from him about sex and how great he is at it.
I know I said this album is better than “Part 1” and you’re probably wondering how I could think that given these first few songs. Trust me. We’re getting there.
4. TKO- Some of JT’s best songs have been the ones where he discusses being scorned by women in his past (“Cry Me a River,” “What Goes Around (Comes Around)”) and TKO fits right in there. Over a kinetic scratching beat, Timberlake compares a former lover to a boxer. “I don’t understand it, Tell me how could you be so low? Been swinging after the bell and after all of the whistle blows. Tried to go below the belt, through my chest, perfect hit to the dome. Dammit babe, This ain’t the girl I used to know, No, not anymore, TKO.” It’s a sentiment that’s been used before but Timberlake’s shaky voice here helps sell the “Who are you and what have you done with the girl I loved, because you’re clearly not her.”
5. Take Back the Night- I wrote a ton about this song already when it first premiered. My opinion of it has not changed at all, this song is an instant-classic summer jam.
6. Murder (featuring Jay-Z)- Apparently 2 songs was enough of a break as “Murder” takes the topic back to the toxic girl and how enticing they can be, even if they’re your downfall. “The forbidden fruit is always the sweetest” seems to be a metaphor that Timberlake loves, here though it doesn’t just seem like more of the same. A slick beat reminiscent of something off “FutureSex” and an intro that sounds a little bit like “Black Skinhead” by Kanye West give this song an edge that the previous few on the topic lacked. Throw in a verse from Jay-Z that’s not only better than the one on “Suit & Tie” but also fits in the song better. Lines from Jay-Z like; “Yoko Ono, she got that Yoko Ono, You know that shit that made John Lennon go solo, Know that shit gotta be lethal, If that ***** broke up The Beatles” bite and paint a picture of heartbreak and coming between friends that every Beatles fan can understand.
7. Drink You Away- Tied for my favorite song on the album, JT trades in the hip-hop beats in favor of a blues guitar driven riff where he reflects once more on heartbreak. Rather than pine for his lost love though, he laments that nothing will help him forget her, not even trying to drown his sorrows with any alcohol imaginable. “I’ve tried Jack, I’ve tried Jim, I’ve tried all of their friends but I can’t drink you away,” it’s hard to imagine that JT has ever felt so lost after a breakup that he drank himself blind but he delivers one of the strongest vocal performances on the album and sells the song regardless that he’s just spent 6 previous songs telling you how great he is at getting ladies and making them go wild. The fact that the song can instantly erase the image of the first half of the album actually puts it as one of the best songs from either part of the “20/20 Experience.”
8. You Got It On- Did you forget about Justin’s previous stint as boyband heartthrob? Probably not, but just in case, “You Got It On” is here to remind you of a time when he simply wanted to take a girl out for a nice night. It’s easy to imagine the song as a tribute to his wife, Jessica Biel, and his falsetto here helps the song come off as sweet and charming rather than sappy.
9. Amnesia- The song starts very similarly to “Pusher Love Girl” from “Part 1” before kicking into a pulsing beat and lyrically, one of JT’s strongest songs to date. Focusing on him being unable to recall a former lover who says she knows him, suggesting that since she was obviously not the one he can’t remember her or their time together. He tries to remember the relationship but thinking of the heartache, decides to just let it go and forget about it altogether. On an album that includes some pretty blunt lines, the metaphors here have even more of an impact.
10. Only When I Walk Away- A dirty riff and some cool effects on JT’s voice help keep up the tempo started by “Amnesia.” Here we seem to find Timberlake in a relationship with someone largely inattentive until he threatens to break it off; “She loves me now, She loves me not, She loves me now, Only when I walk away.” It suggests he’s tried to end the relationship before, only to have her run back to him begging her to take him back, continuing a vicious circle that he’s unable to change.
11. Not A Bad Thing (Pair of Wings: Hidden Song)- Seemingly going back to his boy band sensibilities, singing to a girl who’s had her heart broken on more than one occasion. Here he’s trying to convince her that if she can somehow get past her previous heartbreaks, he’ll show her that falling in love doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Make no mistakes it’s an extremely sappy song, but his time in NSYNC has made him a pro at songs like this and his voice has only gotten stronger with age, which helps the song immensely. Not as lucky however, the bonus track “Pair of Wings” (which is hidden at the end of “Bad Thing) is the least memorable song on the album. Over an acoustic guitar, Timberlake wishes for “a big old pair of wings” so he and his lover could fly away where he can protect her and keep her safe from all her troubles. Where “Bad Thing” was sappy but savable, “Pair of Wings” is just pouring it on a little too much.
Note- If you purchase the album at Target, you’re treated to 2 extra songs, “Blindness” and “Electric Lady.” Both songs are good but it’s easy to see why they were left off the album. Both have good uptempo beats and work to help end the album on a strong note after “Pair of Wings.” If you’re a JT fan or have just enjoyed either “20/20” album, then you should definitely pick up the deluxe one with the extra songs.
After dropping two wildly different but incredibly successful albums it’s clear that Justin Timberlake can do whatever he wants to with his music career. After “FutureSex” was released and he began to focus more and more on acting, Timberlake often said in interviews that he would go back to music when he wanted to. After hearing how focused he is now, here’s to hoping he never decides to leave the studio again.