Album Review | Timberlake’s new album delivers hits despite flaws
Published: Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 07:10
Waiting seven years between Justin Timberlake albums? Not so great. Let’s be honest — it was a bit rough seeing one of pop music’s most innovative stars largely abandon music for a fairly mediocre film career in the interim between “Future Sex/Love Sounds” (2006) and March’s “The 20/20 Experience” (2013). Infallible JT hits that once dominated middle and high school dances, like “SexyBack” (2006) and “Rock Your Body” (2003), started to feel pretty distant as time wore on.
Waiting a mere seven months between Timberlake releases, though? Much better. “The 20/20 Experience” proved to be a promising return to form, and Timberlake recently followed it up with a well-timed sequel: “The 20/20 Experience — 2 of 2,” whose 11 tracks build nicely upon the part-introspective, part gotta-get-the-ladies theme of its predecessor.
As always, Timberlake’s charm, vocal range and production team are what serve his music best. The record borrows elements from all types of artists and genres, while hip-hop music is infused to terrific effects — something that is certainly typical of this musician’s catalog. Drake delivers an infectious, 24-bar verse on “Cabaret,” while “Murder” finds Jay-Z, though not quite in peak form, reviving the chemistry that caused his and Timberlake’s other 2013 collaborations, “Suit & Tie” and “Holy Grail,” to reach such great heights on the Billboard Hot 100 chart earlier this year.
Other hip-hop frontmen also helped to produce the album. While Timbaland’s best material may have been on past records, he still delivers on “20/20” with tracks such as the album’s excellent opener, “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want).” J-Roc, who co-produced every track along with Timbaland and Timberlake, also does his part to keep the album sonically riveting.
The lyrical department — never Timberlake’s strongest suit — is probably where the album suffers most. Nothing here is quite so glaringly forced as Timberlake’s attempt to rhyme “looking” with “oven” in “Suit & Tie,” but there are still a series of noticeable slip-ups. “I got you saying ‘Jesus’ so much it’s like we are laying in the manger” on “Cabaret” is one especially bad offender, and others are unfortunately peppered throughout the record’s nearly 75-minute runtime.
Fans may also grumble about the album’s limited (i.e., non-existent) range in subject matter — although, minus his 2006 heroin addiction ballad, “Losing My Way,” what has Timberlake ever really sung about except women, sex and love? Once audiences get past this, the listening experience will become all the more enjoyable.
Those who struggled through a whole album of super-long cuts the last time around — seven of the 10 tracks from “The 20/20 Experience” cracked the seven-minute mark, a fact not lost upon short-tempered critics — will probably not find this venture much easier. Nearly half the songs here are just as long and, occasionally, the record does feel a bit slow moving, especially during the excessively lengthy and creepy oddity, “True Blood.”
That being said, Timberlake pulls off an excellent final cut on “Not a Bad Thing,” which at over 11 minutes, lasts longer than anything he has ever recorded. In the future, though, JT would be wise to stick to his “Future Sex/Love Sounds” formula, where he kept most of the songs at a radio-friendly length while occasionally extending a couple of the tracks, like “What Goes Around ... Comes Around” (2006), in order to achieve extra emotional wallop.
In the end, few people in the world do what they do as well as Justin Timberlake. His charisma and willingness to experiment have helped him remain relevant in the music industry long after virtually every other member of the late ’90s boy band craze has faded into obscurity. While far from flawless, “The 20/20 Experience — 2 of 2” still manages to capture enough of the energy, fun and musical diversity that have made Timberlake’s music so globally successful throughout his hugely impressive career.