Track-by-track Review: Justin Timberlake’s ‘The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2’

Justin Timberlake”s “The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2,” the second half of his 2013 musical exploration, arrives today and it”s a more diverse companion to its March successor, “The 20/20 Experience.”  Similarly to that album, the best-selling album of 2013 so far,  “2 of 2”  features song sketches, most of them longer than 5 minutes, than traditional chorus/verses in most cases, although the last half has some beautiful, more conventional tracks. The big band feel of the JT and the Tennessee Kids is largely gone here, other than on the horn-driven “Take Back The Night.”

Whereas “The 20/20 Experience” felt sensual, “2 of 2” feels carnal and more blatantly sexual between Timberlake”s delivery and Timbaland”s pulsating production. Plus, the lyrics often take a dark turn as love breaks bad, real bad.

While there is a lot here to admire especially in terms of Timberlake”s adventurous and willingness to stretch out here, there”s still a little too much bloat,  just as there is on the first volume. Between the two sets, there are about eight really strong songs that would have made for a tremendously impressive single set.

Here”s a track-by-track review:

“Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)”: A sultry, sexy funky number with a chorus redolent of Soul II Soul”s “Back To Life.” (Just listen to it and see if the “how ever do you need me/how ever do you want me” refrain doesn”t pop into your mind.).  It”s an rhythmic invitation to what”s still to come. There”s also a “SexyBack” feel that”s tremendously appealing. GRADE: A

“True Blood”:
  A nine-minute-plus rambling funk, beat track that will work in the clubs. Timbaland throws in all kinds of odd sounds, including ringing phones, different loops, Chic-like disco bells, a Vincent Price-like maniacal laugh, and African rhythms as Timberlake vocalizes occasionally over the cacophony about the “demon whose got me screamin….I tasted your blood and found you was the perfect fit.”   Like many of the songs on “The 20/20 Experience,” the last third turns into a different song entirely. The aural equivalent of Chubby Hubby ice cream, it”s got a little too much going on…although a catchy chorus would not be one of them. GRADE: C

“Cabaret”:  “It”s a cabaret,” Timberlake sings as Timbaland repeats “It”s a show, get on the floor” in this loop-driven ode to getting down with your lady, who”s taking off her clothes as quickly as she can. Again, nothing here you could hum as the song is all about the beats and repetitiveness. “You got me saying Jesus so much, it”s like I”m laying in a manger,” Timberlake says in the song”s cleverest line. Drake comes in for a rap that works perfectly with the song in their first collaboration. At 4:32, it”s the album”s shortest song. GRADE: B-

“TKO”: The second single from “2 of 2” features Timberlake singing in his regular register about getting knocked out in love by his woman, “trying to go below the belt.” She”s not fighting fair as he admits he”s “out for the count,” over a catchy bed of busy loops, strange sounds and beats. The final quarter slinks into a spare arrangement with Timbaland beat boxing over Timberlake”s lonesome vocals. GRADE: B-

“Take Back The Night”:
A glorious throw-back to ’70s disco with a horn-driven chorus (yes, JT”s singing “And the horns say,” not something that sounds more offensive), the first single didn”t storm up the charts in part because “Mirrors” was still holding strong, but it”s a song that will do great in concert and as time passes. GRADE: B+

Murder”: A rambling mess of song as Timberlake, even if it has a chorus/verse structure, sings about a woman who has so much going on below the waist that it can only lead to murder.  Jay Z comes in for a rap that name drops Yoko Ono, of all people. Way, way too busy. GRADE: D

“Drink You Away”:
The album”s best track with potential to be  “2 of 2″s” “Mirrors.” A gorgeous, organ-drenched, acoustic-guitar-based  tune that features JT passionately singing, “I can”t drink you away. I”ve tried Jack, I”ve tried Jim… Now, tell me baby, do they make a medicine for heartbreak.” It”s a stomping, full-out  swampy tale of a man whose gotten to the bottom of the bottle and still has further down to go. The hand-clapping gospel feel plays beautifully into Timberlake”s Memphis roots. Far and away the most captivating track on the album. GRADE: A

“You Got It On”: A dreamy, sexy song. Think Timberlake channeling Usher, which means, of course, he’s also channeling Marvin and Donny.  It”s all about sexy time. “Tell me what”s better than than the two of us because you by yourself is more than enough for me,” he croons in falsetto. Cue the disco ball for this slow jamming, finger-snapping slinky paint-by-numbers description of how Timberlake is going to make his lady very, very happy.  GRADE: B+

“Amnesia”: Another slow jam, but this in case, Timberlake is lamenting that his woman has left him.  “Ain”t no we anymore, she”s a stranger that I used to know,” he sings, over a steady, swirling beat and strings. A sweeping, hypnotic song that morphs into a different track for the final third.  Someone should do a mash-up with Gotye”s “Somebody That I Used To Know” immediately. GRADE: B-

“Only When I Walk Away”: 
  An autotuned Timberlake laments that his woman only loves him when walks away on this moody, dramatic track.  “She loves me only when I walk away,” he sings, as a heavy chorus and beat nail the track to the floor. There”s a darkness and experimental tribal break that sounds like something Michael Jackson would be creating today. One of the album”s more interesting tracks for both Timbaland”s production and Timberlake”s delivery. GRADE: B

“Not A Bad Thing”:
And now for something different. For the album closer, “Not A Bad Thing” starts as a breezy, hand-clapper that doesn”t sound that dissimilar to something that  ‘N Sync would have sung on its best day.  It”s a lovely, lilting straight-up pop tune. “Don”t act like it”s a bad thing to fall in love with me,” he croons. He promises fealty to his girl because she”s worth it. GRADE: A

“A Pair of Wings”: Not sure if this is part of “Not A Bad Thing,” given how much shape-shifting goes on on so many of the tracks or if it”s just a hidden bonus track on the same track, but from “Not A Bad Thing,” after a few seconds of silence, Timberlake goes into a lovely ballad featuring only him and a flamenco-inflected acoustic guitar (although strings come in later).  With the world getting uglier, all he wants to do is fly away on a pair of wings with his love. It”s a gentle, sweet lullaby that serves as a romantic song or an ode to the child he has yet to have. It”s the  polar opposite from a track like “Murder.”  A sweet capper. GRADE: B