Arguably the crowned king of pop (much to Michael Jackson's beyond the grave dismay), Justin Timberlake's March release of The 20/20 Experience in March of this year left something to be desired. One would think that The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 would be an amendment to the somewhat lacking nature of Timberlake's first release since quote unquote retiring from music in 2006. Timberlake's absence left an obvious void in the industry, especially with regard to the creation of quality pop music. And so, the expectations for his latest offerings have been considerably high as he works to remain relevant in a business that his cast away his compatriots (chiefly, Britney Spears).
"Gimme What I Don't Know (I Want)" continues the soulful motif established on the first volume of The 20/20 Experience. Languid vocals characterize most of the song as Timberlake chants, "Come here/Gimme what I don't know...I want." The musical breakdown of the song is what makes it most worthwhile, another attribution to the benefit of having J-Roc as his producer. The second (or twelfth, depending on how you look at it) track, "True Blood," picks up the pace with a frenetic, bayou-inspired beat. Not necessarily a reference to HBO's True Blood, this particular song might have been better off if it was just an homage to Alexander Skarsgard.
Next up is "Cabaret," which, if not for the Timbaland backing vocals, would be as gay as the title suggests. There is something forced and unnatural about Timberlake's vibe on this offering as he sings dubious lyrics like, "Even though I'm a professional, I like to do my work at home." The repetitiveness of the song is interrupted by a brief rap from Drake, who mixes up the vibe for a minute before Timberlake delves back into saying "cabaret" a lot. Following is one of the only knockout selections on the album, "TKO." And I'm not saying knockout in terms of being impressed, but in terms of being blacked out by the badness. Opening with "She killed me with that coo coochy coochy coo," it's hard to take anything said after that very seriously.
"Take Back the Night," the first single from the album, is the obvious sequel, of sorts, to "Suit and Tie." It is also one of the tracks that most closely exemplifies Timberlake's emulation of old school Michael Jackson. Easily the most listenable song on The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2, Timberlake made a prudent choice in releasing it as the single to support his record prior to its release. "Murder" marks the halfway point of the album, and definitely reveals Timberlake finally finding his groove. Another song that resembles something from FutureSex/LoveSounds--just as "Tunnel Vision" does on the first volume of The 20/20 Experience--Timberlake relies once again on Jay-Z to buttress his music. Naturally, Jigga Man's contribution is easily one of the most memorable highlights in addition to Drake's earlier rap on "Cabaret."
"Drink You Away" is the most southern, rock-tinged song--perhaps Timberlake's Tennesseean roots finding a way to shine through. Although it is a story of heartache, there is very little sincerity in Timberlake's voice as he sings, "I can't drink you away." One can't help picture instead his drinking in order to stay away from Jessica Biel. Subsequently, "You Got It On," mirroring the style of a Spring Breakers backing track with its slowed down Skrillex-like beat, indicates that The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 is, mercifully, winding down. As we segue into the symphonic "Amnesia," it's evident that Timberlake is still treating this album as more of an experiment than an enduring pop opus.
"Only When I Walk Away" reverts back to the rock style we heard on "Drink You Away." The grittiest offering other than "True Blood," there is something uniquely honest about this song in comparison to all the rest as Timberlake screams, "She loves me now, she loves me not/She loves me now, but only when I walk away." The concluding track, "Not A Bad Thing," bears something of an 80s style with its feel-good opening notes. It reminds you instantly of something that would play at the end of a Tom Cruise movie of the decade. That being said, once Timberlake starts singing, it sounds like a New Age Christian song. And this is the general impression we are left of Timberlake's music career of late: It's steady and constant, but nothing you would probably seek out unless it found you first--like in a dentist's office or in the waiting room at a methadone clinic as it played ironically.