Timberlake’s ten new tracks toe a thin line
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 01:10
Throughout his career, Justin Timberlake has shown dramatic growth in each of his solo projects. On 2002’s “Justified,” we saw him shrug off his ‘N Sync boy band image with hits like “Cry Me a River” and “Rock Your Body” and step into a full fledged superstardom. 2006’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds” saw even more expansion into futuristic electro dance music. With progressive soundscapes crafted by longtime collaborator Timberland, not only mainstream, but music critics alike could no longer deny the musical prowess that came from the Memphis singer.
After his seven-year hiatus, Timberlake is back this year and bigger than ever. In case you’ve been living under a rock this year, in March Timberlake released the first part of his double album, “The 20/20 Experience,” to massive critical and commercial success. The album showcased an older, more experienced Timberlake. With massive, full-blown production and infectious grooves, the album toed the thin line between commercial appeal and critical acceptance. The follow-up, however, does not seem to want to push that envelope. Timberlake almost seems complacent and doesn’t look to push the boundaries like he has throughout his career.
The album’s opener, “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” seems like an extension of the first part of “20/20.” Although the lyricism is not anything to write home about the beat-box-infused track provides a solid introduction into what is expected to be the next superb chapter in Timberlake’s legacy. However, as the next tracks show this album serves as more of a step back than a leap of progression in what has always been a forward-thinking artist discography.
On “20/20” and “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” songs were no doubt longer than your average pop album. With nearly every track in the five or six minute range Timberlake sought to challenge listeners, but this time around it really felt like a challenge. In the later minutes of part one’s hit single “Mirrors,” your ears almost instinctively perk up when the, “you are, you are, the love of my life” kicks in. On part two, in comparison, it feels like a chore to get through some tracks. After about the four-minute mark on “True Blood” you get sick of hearing super cliché, simplistic vampire lines that are less engaging than the HBO series it shares a name with.
That being said, part two of this double album does have some bright spots. The first single, “Take Back the Night,” could have fit perfectly into Daft Punk’s latest release with its 80s-inspired disco flare. The epic horn and string sequences on “Amnesia” as well as the lofty vocals Timberlake puts on the track are more of what we have come to expect after the first iteration of “20/20.” Drake’s guest spot on “Cabaret” works perfectly with the funky beat, but Timberlake spoils the song with its lacidaisical hook and cringeworthy lines like, “got you saying Jesus so much, it’s like we laying in a manger.”
As the album moves on, it seems more and more like Timberlake is just going through the motions.
Everyone is familiar with Justin as a nice Memphis boy who showed his roots in such a resounding way on “That Girl” of part one. Now, on part two, “Drink You Away” sounds like less of an ode to his heritage and more like a Keith Urban crossover attempt gone incredibly awry.
On “Murder” he enlists the help of “Suit and Tie” collaborator Jay-Z only to fail the rekindle the adult sensibilities that made that track so elegant, and with every repeat of “You know that girl is murder,” more fingers head toward the skip button.
The album does redeem itself a bit on the nearly 12-minute half-acoustic closer “Not a Bad Thing” that has Timberlake crooning over a fingerpicked guitar with some of the most emotion found on the album. However, not even this can make up for the lack of inspiration that is present on this project.
When Timberlake said he had recorded both parts of this album around the same time, these tracks must have been the B-sides to the wonderful tracks that were on part one. This iteration feels very rushed, diluted and just overall lacking in progression that one has come to expect with a new Timberlake album. Maybe in seven more years Timberlake will swoop down from his pop throne to bless the world with another genre-changing LP but until then we may be stuck with the half-hearted and ill thought out second part of “The 20/20 Experience.”