Review Summary: Shockingly boring and without a true hit, the second volume of The 20/20 Experience is entirely forgettable.
For better or worse, 2013 has cemented Justin Timberlake into pop’s pantheon. While Timberlake is certainly a talented individual, the powers that be have worked revisionist history to great effect in his favor. Take, for example, this year’s MTV Video Music Awards: Timberlake was afforded an uninterrupted nearly-twenty minute parade through his discography, including a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ reunion of the boy band that launched his name into superstardom in the first place (countless social media posts read: “I’ve waited for eleven years for this!”). While the spectacle certainly was an impressive parade of Timberlake’s –and, ostensibly, the previous decade’s- biggest hits, it seemed to play to a narrative that probably wouldn’t exist without some heavy hand-holding. Suddenly, a man who released a handful of legitimately great songs (and some of the biggest guilty pleasures this side of infinity) was being hailed as the prince
of pop. Again, Timberlake is
incredibly talented, lurching into the zeitgeist not only as a popstar, but an actor and (sometimes) comedian as well. But, given the vast number of legitimate contestants, to call him the as-a-matter-of-fact prince
of pop doesn’t sit quite right; and nowhere is that more evident than on his latest release, the second volume of The 20/20 Experience
Volume one arrived nearly six years after Timberlake’s pervious solo effort and, as such, the praise came quick and hyperbolic. While part one contained a few great songs (“Pusher Love Girl”, “Blue Ocean Floor”, “Strawberry Bubblegum”) and the inevitable massive hits (“Suit and Tie” and the wonderful “Mirrors”), it was also kind of a mess. Songs boasted runtimes that were entirely unjustified and beat-changes that were entirely too obtuse. To make things worse, the production was oddly thin, especially on the low-end –an odd choice for an album intended for the masses to dance to. It was a perfect microcosm of Timberlake’s musical career thus far: a few fantastic songs surrounded by too many forgettable ones.
The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2
doesn’t see those problems go away (the two parts were recorded in the same marathon session); in fact, they’re much worse. Songs like “True Blood” and “Only When I Walk Away” are so needlessly long that one would be forgiven for thinking that they’re some sort of amateur remix –but, no, they really are just that repetitive. The arrangements are still fairly ambitious and include everything from neo-funk to grimy, European dance, but they still sound oddly thin and hollow. Much of the time, the music seems to scale itself back to ostensibly rely on Timberlake’s charismatic voice, but even he sounds bored at times (“Amnesia”, “TKO”). It’s possibly that he’s aware of just how limp the material here really is; the album’s biggest flaw is that it lacks a true hit. Budweiser commercials and VMA performances did their damndest, but “Take Back the Night” (See: don’t rape) just doesn’t have the same resonation as the magic found within “Mirrors” or “Sexyback”.
The album does have its fair share of positives, however: for one, it’s not terrible –just entirely forgettable. Drake and Jay-Z help elevate “Cabaret” and “Murder” respectively with their own brands of, well, Drizzy and HOVA-ness. “Not A Bad Thing” sounds like a pretty good, if average, N*Sync song. However, that song's hidden track, “Pair of Wings”, actually steals the show by being a heart-breaking acoustic ballad that sounds both vital and convincing, ending things on a very positive note. While JT sounds complacent throughout most of 2 of 2
, his usual charisma shines through on a handful of tracks like “Drink You Away” –even if he sounds like the world’s least-convincing drink-it-slow bar resident. And, really, with any semblance of editing, “True Blood” and “Only When I Walk Away” would probably be pretty cool.
Then again, that could probably be said of the entirety of The 20/20 Experience
. Between both volumes, Justin Timberlake probably has a very solid album that might be worthy of his omnipresence. As it stands, however, there are entirely too many songs and questionable choices that prevent the two from becoming anything truly great. It’s a shame, too, because there are great ideas found within the exhausting runtime –there’s just entirely too much work needed to get to them. Ultimately, 2 of 2
will be forgotten and JT will continue to put out songs that will be impossible to escape. One day he may release the homerun that many claim he already has, but this isn’t it. But, hey, the prince
is allowed to have a misfire, right?