You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like Justin Timberlake. Between his music, movies and well-documented comedic presence, confirmed in his stellar Jimmy Fallon skits and SNL hosting gigs, most everyone everywhere loves this man. He is, without a doubt, America’s Most Charismatic Sweetheart, the current Prince of Pop and arguably the Performer of his Generation.
JT made us wait seven long years for the follow up to his masterful 2006 album, Future Sex/Love Sounds. I was obsessed with that album and it remains, like for many fans, on my list of all-time favorite albums. It is a masterpiece work of Grammy-winning genius. Finally, 2013 brought us Timberlake’s two part album,The 20/20 Experience, with the second half, The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 released on September 30. By releasing the album in two halves, Timberlake allowed himself to have two Number One albums in the same year and cemented his place at the head of the music game. The 20/20 Experience – 1 of 2, released on March 15, featured first-week sales reaching 968,000 while 2 of 2 sold 350,000 copies in its first week. Basically, anything this man does turns to gold.
2 of 2 was described by Justin himself as the “antithesis” of its partner, a darker more sexualized fantasy of indulging in lust over love. This is clear, with lines including “I got you saying Jesus so much it’s like we’re laying in the manger” on opener ‘Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)’ and “Can we discuss how fast you just got undressed? Girl, if sex is a contest, then you’re coming first” in “Cabaret.” Most of this sequel album contrasts to part one’s tame, more romance-filled vibe, including love songs ‘Mirrors’ and ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’.
Timberlake once again teams up with his trusted collaborators Timbaland and Jerome “J-Roc” Harmon,with 2 of 2 featuring recordings taken from the same 2012 sessions that produced the album’s first half. The result is a groovy, urban-pop beat filled album, with certain songs sounding like throwbacks to the classic Timbaland tracks from the late 90’s, early 2000s. But this isn’t a bad thing. As Entertainment Weekly writer Kyle Anderson put it, “the Drake-assisted ‘Cabaret’ builds a symphony of mouth noises that recalls Aaliyah’s ”Are You That Somebody?,’ and ”True Blood” is so 1997 that it’s shocking there’s not a guest verse by Mase (that’s a compliment).” I personally loved Mase and am not afraid to admit it. Anderson also calls Timberlake an “avatar of cool,” which is in itself the coolest phrase ever and perfectly on the money with Timberlake’s status as the King of All Things Hip.
2 of 2 is one of those albums that continues to grow on you with every listen. The first time through, it seems like Timberlake and Team made it to satisfy their every whim and indulgence, with songs clocking in between 5 to 11 minutes, and without thinking about what makes for stellar or easy listening for the listener. But with each repeat, the tracks became more and more catchy. And the long length of songs provides the room for typical JT mid-song switcheroos, with some tunes sounding like two or three different ones and/or featuring interesting and cool breakdowns. JT is constantly throwing curveballs into his songs, making the act of listening more fun and impactful. These change-ups have become a trade mark to Timberlake’s albums and could not be more exhilarating, unique and rewarding for the listener. And to be fair, the 11-minute long song is actually the last song, then a break, and then a hidden, secret song (a sweet, soft acoustic number). Remember those from the 90s!? However, there is a bloated quality to this album that seems more dominant than on Timberlake’s past albums. They could have made a few more cuts, taking out the dullest parts from some of the songs.
The expanded song lengths make plenty of room for friends to visit. The catchy, uptempo “Murder” features JT Bestie Jay-Z. It also has a killer chorus and awesome final chapter, making this one of the album’s best. Drake stops by on the equally fun, sexual “Cabaret,” which sounds like the pervy older cousin of “Are You That Somebody?” It also features an addictive hook. And “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” includes basically all of the animal kingdom and is a tantalizing song depicting seduction. “Come here, gimme what I don’t know… I want,” he commands above dirty bass licks and great beats. JT talks about jungles, cages and teeth and the last part of the song features the animal sounds, making this a song of carnal, animalistic seduction.
The album switches gears for a few minutes half way through with the outstanding track “Drink You Away.” “Don’t they make a medicine for heartbreak?” JT asks in this guitar driven, raw sounding track with a strong backbeat. “I’ve tried Jack, I’ve tried Jim, I’ve tried all of their friends. But I can’t drink you away.” I’m sure at least 90% of women on Earth would like to help ease your pain, Mr. Timberlake. Some reviewers have commented on the album’s disconnected feeling, like the songs don’t necessarily feel like they belong together on an album. I agree to some extent, but “Drink You Away” is an example of this occurring in a positive way, as this song sounds nothing like the others but is an album highlight. An example of where a random-sounding song does the album no favors is one of the album’s misses – the boy-band sounding final track “Not a Bad Thing.” It’s not a bad song, per se, but it doesn’t fit in. Simultaneously, it is totally average in every way.
Timberlake does romance right on “You Got It On,” a easy, breezy slow-jam reminiscent of the Smoky Robinson classic “Ooo Baby Baby.” The most romantic song on an album much more concerned about what happens in the bedroom than what happens in the heart, JT sings here that “it sounds like falling in love over and over again with you.” This feels like the perfect place to say, don’t we all hate Jessica Biel, at least a little bit? This song’s pretty orchestrations and smooth rhythms make this song a winner. The album’s next song, “Amnesia,” continues slowing things down while featuring Timbaland’s trademark sounds. Not one of the album’s best, this is a bit of a filler song, but features a cool ending with an adjusted, heavier-orchestral sound.
2 of 2‘s first singles burning up the charts include “Take Back the Night,” which was released this past summer prior to the album’s release. I personally am not a big fan of this song. It contains all the essential elements of solid retro disco sounds – “Off the Wall”-style rhythms, falsetto vocals, and vintage-sounding horns but it falls short of being a great song, at least compared with Timberlake’s other hits. The second chart-topper, “TKO,” has Timberlake stating “I’m out for the count. Girl you knock me out. It’s just a TKO.” Not the most impressive lyrics but a crowd-pleasing, radio-friendly jam nonetheless. It also features a beat-box filled epilogue, which you know by now I strongly approve of. “When I Walk Away” also has a cool syncopated feel but is less than great. Despite a cool guitar riff, I found the first half of this song to be another one of the album’s filler parts. The cool animal-sounding second half has strong beats but is a bit too experimental sounding overall. “True Blood” also suffers from this condition but is a bit more catchy.
Overall, 2 of 2 is a funk and beat-filled fun fest, with synth riffs jabbing out from odd corners, sped-up vocal samples and unexpected instrumentation. Tracks are filled with plenty of splashy novelties, drawing in listeners and keeping them on their toes. The album could definitely be a bit too much for some audience members, including myself at first listen. To truly appreciate 2 of 2, listen to it a few times through. You will soon be picking out your favorite album tracks to add to the list of JT songs you love to hear.