True Blood – Justin Timberlake
The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2
74.29 min • RCA • September 27, 2013
Little Bastard reviews
It’s hard to follow a masterpiece.
When Justin Timberlake released the first part of a new album a few months ago, it took me completely by surprise. I’d always appreciated Justin’s obvious talent, and thought that his previous album Future Sex/Love Sounds showed potential for him to be one of the great pop icons of our generation, and then he just kind of … disappeared. I was sceptical about his return with The 20/20 Experience, but on listening discovered it to be a complex album of great songwriting, incredible production and possibly the edgiest pop album any of us will discover this year. Then I heard ‘Take Back The Night’, the first single from The 20/20 Experience 2 Of 2, and I was … underwhelmed. Seeming to take its lead from the Timberlake of old (now viewed as “Classic Timberlake” by the growing number of online journalists under 25 that seem to think ‘Like I Love You’ is vintage). Rather than a “return to form” it just felt like, well, a step back. On listening to the album as a whole, I wish it had been the album released first. I think, under different circumstances I would have devoured each pop gem one after the other, as there’s absolutely noting wrong with this album, even in the cannon of his previous work.
Now, I know it’s not all about me. Justin Timberlake isn’t there just to facilitate my needs as a casual fan and music obsessive. How he decides to release his music is entirely his decision. However, had it been me arranging the tracklisting, I would have thrown a couple of the more “filler” tracks from part 2 onto part 1 to give it a little more light and shade, and vice versa. That way, creating a 2 album sonic experience that had emotional highs and lows and musical peaks and troughs. As it stands, part one is still the best album Justin Timberlake has ever recorded, and part 2 is what I expected part 1 to be … it isn’t bad, more disappointing.
When I began this review I was prepared to savage the album for being banal (which I still am) but the more I listened the more the songs grew on me. Opener ‘Gimme What I Don’t Know I Want’ has a nice strut to it, with a bass line that makes me move involuntarily. ‘True Blood’, which follows, is probably my favourite thing on here, with its killer beat and haunted house feel with a manipulated sample of Vincent Price’s laugh from Thriller, it’s the biggest dark joy for me on the whole album, and feels more akin to the first album of the Experience than anything else.
You’re the girl who’s gonna be there when it’s marrying time,
And I’ll fuck you like we’re having an affair, I swear –
is probably my favourite lyric on the whole album, belonging not to Justin but to Drake on the otherwise commercial ‘Cabaret’, a great pop r’n’b song with a Timbaland-by-numbers beat. Drake’s inclusion on the track makes it feel less pedestrian and a little more interesting. On second single ‘TKO’ Justin seems to be treading more familiar ground. It’s typical chart fodder, many people calling it ‘Cry Me A River 2’, and was an obvious single choice – but then that’s part of the problem I have with this album in general – it’s all far too obvious.
Lead single ‘Take Back The Night’ has really grown on me, and whereas Part 1 referenced Prince heavily, Part 2 does lean more towards overt Michael Jackson references, from Thriller to an Off The Wall sexy disco shimmer on ‘Take Back The Night’. Segueing into ‘Murder’ which is so quintessentially Timbaland it wouldn’t have been out of place on one of his Shock Value compilations, is easy enough on the ear but feels a little lazy. The country-blues of ‘Drink You Away’ is a pleasant way to spend 5 minutes, and I can think of worse things to do with my time, but it doesn’t exactly send me anywhere. ‘Amnesia’ and ‘Only When I Walk Away’ are the only tracks that come anywhere close to the innovation seen on Part 1, the latter going through so many changes it almost feels like it’s own DJ set. They still fall short of that genuine brilliance that permeated the previous offering, and their only worth on here is to break up the commercial monotony.
Closing number ‘Not A Bad Thing’ is a classic boy band ballad, albeit a foul mouthed one, about how it might not be a bad thing to fall in love with Justin. Perhaps if I was currently in love and if it was summer, this acoustic guitar led Hallmark card would have sat better with me. But as a singleton in the depths of autumn, craving the darker side of Timberlake, it’s a poor relation to ‘Blue Ocean Floor’. In contrast, secret track ‘Pair Of Wings’ is surprising beautiful and, despite still feeling a little cheesy and trite, it actually ends the album on quite a pretty note.
I think it’s commendable that Timbaland and Timberlake are brave enough to write such epic songs – it harks back to a time when extended mixes were the norm – a ten minute pop opus is always better than a three minute pop fix. A bit like a 3 hour sex session versus a 2 minute “do you have a cigarette” quickie. But I find the album frustrating. I can’t justifiably say anything bad about it, and it’s ok for walking to work to, or sticking on when I’m doing the washing up, or (dread the thought) tidying my room! However great it is, it hasn’t set my world alight, but I don’t want to say this album is bad. It’s really not. In fact it’s a classic slice of mainstream pop. It’s mature and fun, well written and once again incredibly produced. The main problem with this album is that the first part was so freakishly amazing, it was impossible to live up to. The 20/20 Experience is the best record of Justin’s career to date, and in comparison it’s counterpart feels like an album of commercial off-cuts, lending weight to the rumours that it is the result of a contractual obligation. Whereas The 20/20 Experience felt like an artist’s need to make music, 2 Of 2 drips of an artist being made to make music, and that doesn’t sit well with me.
Part 2 is for the people who talk about the “old” Justin and dislike change, and I would suggest that anyone who likes Timberlake who hasn’t yet bought the previous album should invest in the singular Full Experience, a nicely packaged download of both albums mastered for iTunes, and not costing much more than one album individually. In its entirety I’m sure the whole thing makes a lot more sense, and if you were to play around with the track listing you could make the new material sound a lot less dull. If you loved The 20/20 Experience as I did, and want to keep your image of Justin as an alternative pop music God in tact, I’d give 2 Of 2 a miss. All it does is make you realise how mind-blowing pop music really can be, and how dull this commercial pop album really is.